Hours before President Trump heads to El Paso on a mission to “help heal” the city after a mass shooting apparently motivated by anti-immigrant hatred, he lashed out at former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic presidential candidate and native son, for supposedly changing his name to appeal to Hispanic voters.
“Beto (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O’Rourke, who is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him, and is now even more embarrassed by polling at 1% in the Democrat Primary, should respect the victims & law enforcement — & be quiet!” Trump tweeted just before midnight on Tuesday.
The attack, which raises the discredited claim that O’Rourke adopted a Spanish-language nickname as a political tactic, struck a jarring tone barely 24 hours after Trump called for bipartisan cooperation in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend that claimed at least 31 lives.
Speaking Monday from a teleprompter in the White House, Trump said that “now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love.”
On Tuesday, though, he was back on Twitter to slam his partisan enemies. O’Rourke, who was raised in El Paso and represented the area in Congress for six years, has relentlessly criticized the president in the wake of the shooting. O’Rourke suggested that Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric helped inspire the shooter, who police believe left a manifesto that raged against a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
“We have a president right now who traffics in this hatred, who incites this violence, who calls Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, calls asylum seekers animals and an infestation,” O’Rourke said at a vigil on Sunday.
The Democrat hasn’t been alone in El Paso in criticizing the president. When Trump visits the city on Wednesday, he’ll probably face protests and local leaders with angry questions about his regular verbal attacks on immigrants and his lack of gun control proposals. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.), who won O’Rourke’s seat last fall, said on Tuesday she would skip Trump’s visit and instead attend a demonstration against his leadership.
In hitting back at O’Rourke, Trump resurrected an old claim: That he shunned his given name of Robert for “Beto,” a common Hispanic nickname, as a cynical ploy for votes. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) made a similar claim in an ad released hours after O’Rourke won the primary to challenge him last year, using the lyrical rhyme: “I remember reading stories/Liberal Robert wanted to fit in/So he changed his name to ‘Beto’/And hid it with a grin.”
That claim was raised again on Tuesday night by a guest on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show. Victor Davis Hanson, a historian with Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, compared O’Rourke to Rachel Dolezal, the white woman and former NAACP official who posed as black, and said he’d “found something that’s not white that . . . can translate into a careerist advantage.”
But O’Rourke told The Washington Post that he was given the nickname growing up in El Paso. He even provided a childhood photo where he wore a shirt with the nickname:
He was using the nickname in newspaper stories as early as 2002, a decade before he ran for Congress, The Post reported.
Responding to Trump early on Wednesday morning, O’Rourke ignored the dig at his name and instead promised to continue criticizing the president.