Early on Thursday, former congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas was in a coffee shop in Keokuk, Iowa, standing on a chair as he passionately engaged with the large crowd gathered before him. Less than an hour earlier, he had finally put the rumors and speculation to rest — yes, he announced in a video shared to social media, he is running for president.
But as late-night host Jimmy Fallon admitted that night, he had a hard time focusing on O’Rourke’s earnest rhetoric as the 46-year-old began his first day of presidential campaigning.
“He said some pretty interesting stuff, but to be honest I was kind of distracted,” Fallon told his audience on NBC.
Why? Like many others, including President Trump, Fallon had become fixated on one thing: O’Rourke’s frequent, and rather emphatic, hand motions.
“His Fitbit thinks he takes 3 million steps a day,” Fallon joked. “He’s all over the place.”
O’Rourke’s tendency to punctuate his speech with energetic gestures appeared to be on the president’s mind Thursday, because when he was asked about his new potential Democratic challenger, Trump immediately drew attention to the mannerism.
“Well, I think he’s got a lot of hand movement,” the president told reporters at the White House. “I’ve never seen so much hand movement. I said, ‘Is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?’ . . . I’ve actually never seen anything quite like it. Study it, I’m sure you’ll agree.”
Trump’s critique of O’Rourke drew instant rebuke from social media users and late-night hosts, who pointed out that the president himself is a known fan of excessive gesticulation, ranging from his often-used spreading of the arms to the time he mocked a reporter with a disability.
On NBC, the president’s comment left Seth Meyers perplexed.
“I’m sorry, are you accusing someone else of having weird hand movements and acting crazy?” the incredulous host asked. “Every time you do a news conference, you look like you’re playing an invisible accordion.”
Slipping into his Trump impersonation, Meyers continued: “You guys ready for the liar’s polka?”
Meanwhile, on Comedy Central, Trevor Noah also likened Trump’s movements to a musical performance.
“Every single Trump speech looks like he’s conducting every orchestra in the world at the same time,” Noah said.
On Thursday, Twitter was flooded with clips from users eager to remind the president that he and O’Rourke aren’t all that different when it comes to public speaking habits.
However, while Noah acknowledged that Trump is “the last person to mock someone for overusing their hands,” he surprised himself and his viewers when he said he had to agree with the president’s assessment of O’Rourke.
“He kind of looks like one of those things at the carwash,” Noah said, playing a clip of an inflatable tube man often seen flailing wildly outside car dealerships.
If the race comes down to Trump vs. O’Rourke, Noah predicted that the debates would “look like every fighting game we remember from the arcade.”
The show cut to a split-screen of the two men, overlaid with a graphic of an old-school video game. With each hand motion, the men hurled fireballs at each other or erected glowing shields.
Fallon took his commentary on O’Rourke’s oratory habits a step further, spoofing the former congressman’s announcement in a cold open on his show titled, “Beto O’Rourke’s Hands Announce His 2020 Presidential Campaign.”
"Hi, I’m Beto O’Rourke, and I’m excited,” Fallon as O’Rourke said, moving his arms erratically. “That’s it, I’m just excited.” A woman playing O’Rourke’s wife, Amy, sat next to Fallon clutching one of his arms, but that did little to keep the host from continuing to gesture with enthusiasm throughout the two-minute clip.
Throughout the day, social media users were equally obsessed with O’Rourke’s hands and their inability to stay still, pointing to his official announcement video and clips of him in Iowa as examples.
“He looks like a traffic cop at the crossroads from the center of the world,” Sebastian Smith, a White House correspondent for Agence France-Presse, tweeted.
Even a parody account for O’Rourke’s dog weighed in.
O’Rourke was made aware of Trump’s criticism Thursday, but appeared unbothered by it.
“I have nothing to say to that,” he said, chuckling, according to the Hill. “I think people want us to rise above the pettiness, the smallness.”