Beto and Biden, BetoandBiden, BetoBiden, Betoden. Say it five times fast and two of the most well-known (potential) 2020 Democratic presidential candidates morph into some kind of celebrity supercouple akin to J.Rod and Kimye. Okay, not exactly like that, but you get the picture. For now, they’re connected.
Beto O’Rourke, the former congressman from Texas no one had ever heard of before the midterms, and former vice president Joe Biden, whom fans (and foes) affectionately call “Uncle Joe,” are a pop culture package deal. In December, RealClear Politics suggested their best shot is to run together, and the Associated Press reported Biden was considering O’Rourke as a running mate. A Biden/Beto 2020 vintage T-shirt is available on Etsy for $19.99.
And both politicians have taken their time declaring their intentions. After much speculation, O’Rourke finally announced today. Biden, for now, is keeping us in suspense. For months, the 46-year-old and the 76-year-old each had the mediarati waiting with bated breath and twitchy Twitter fingers as if each politician were a high school basketball star playing coy about announcing his future college: “I’ve decided to take my talents to …”
With O’Rourke and Biden, we’ve all been wondering and comparing and trying to figure it all out. It’s like a group-therapy session played out in major headlines or, in O’Rourke’s case, emo Medium posts. “It’s the white man ‘Eat Pray Love’ tour,” explained one Washington-based Democratic strategist in the days before O’Rourke declared. (Like many in the field, she is still deciding which 2020 campaign to join.) It’s all so very millennial, appealing to those in the young voting demographic who see themselves in O’Rourke’s journey to find himself.
Biden, meanwhile, is lovable, scrappy, straight-talking — and still the definition of an establishment candidate. The former vice president is a “refuge” for old-school politicians, says Jamal Simmons, a Democratic strategist and host of Hill.TV. “I think Joe Biden appeals to Washington establishment figures who are uncomfortable with the direction of the modern Democratic Party,” he continues. And younger Democrats might not find his antics so cute. “What people find refreshing about Joe Biden they might not find as funny in 2019,” Simmons adds. Casual sexist and racial remarks, and eye-popping gaffes, won’t be so easily ignored.
“The vice president is going to have to learn how to dance to this new music,” says Simmons. “O’Rourke has shown that he understands the footwork.” O’Rourke is a member of the wave of new politicians — think Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum — who ignored the gatekeepers and ran without waiting their turn. They are young, charismatic, unapologetic and Instagram-ready.
So why are the chattering classes so eager to link Biden and O’Rourke to each other? (Washington Post Opinions: “What to watch for when Biden and Beto launch.” Vanity Fair: “Why G.O.P. insiders fear Beto and Biden over Warren and Sanders” and “Biden tap-dances around his Beto problem.”) First O’Rourke was hailed as the “white [Barack] Obama” (cringe) and now he’s being touted as the younger Joe Biden. O’Rourke’s age is frequently mentioned as a boon to Biden if the two ever decided to team up.
Some of this is simply because they’re two of the last possible contenders to make up their minds. But perhaps it’s also an old model of bottlenecking. In a Democratic field that’s become increasingly crowded and increasingly nonwhite and female, the two “mainstream” white men in the mix are being linked to and also pitted against each other in the same way the women and the African Americans are. As if there were no room for more than one of anything. The Betoden moment says a lot about us, and where we are as a country — weary of division yet somehow always falling back on it. Maybe that’s what’s led to the public soul searching: that the politicians themselves think one is enough.
Helena Andrews-Dyer is co-author of The Post’s Reliable Source column.