Beto O’Rourke hasn’t yet entered the 2020 presidential race. He doesn’t have a stump speech. He does, however, have a sense of timing and a tremendous facility for social media. Politico reports:
O’Rourke also displayed his signature message — optimistic, unifying. He smartly avoids demonizing Trump supporters even as he slams President Trump:
“I think [Trump] has seized this emotional language very effectively, completely irresponsibly, not tethered to the truth,” O’Rourke said. “But if I don’t live in El Paso, if I haven’t had the experience that we’ve had, if I live in Michigan, Iowa, Oregon, the northern border, I don’t … I may not know any better, and ‘Shit, the president of the United States just said that there are rapists and criminals and murderers who will chop your head off coming to get us. Fuck yeah, build a wall.’ And so … I can see responding that way.”O’Rourke said he was filming the Facebook Live video — and asking friends about their families’ immigration stories — in an effort to counter such rhetoric. He noted El Paso’s low crime rate and research indicating immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born populations.
It is an open question whether casual profanity is now de rigueur and evidence of authenticity. My view is enough people find it objectionable that it undercuts O’Rourke’s plea for civility and respect. That said, his skill for persuasion — “here I will show you what’s real” — is effective, if only because Trump’s fearmongering rhetoric is so far removed from reality that he could never appear with unscripted people who aren’t members of the Trump cult. Ironically, for a reality-TV-show star, Trump needs the security of a patsy interviewer (hence, his affection for toadies such as Sean Hannity), a teleprompter (although his cadence is stilted) and/or an adoring crowd that does not pose any threat of criticism or objection.
Certainly, O’Rourke is as much a feel-good candidate as Trump is a dystopia president. (“Turning his camera to the skylines of El Paso and Juárez, O’Rourke — sporting a new beard — said, ‘It’s one of the most peaceful, one of the most beautiful communities on the planet.’”) He sure isn’t an angry man in the mold of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The campaign will tell us whether Democratic primary voters want someone to channel their anger and/or attack their foes (e.g., special interests, lobbyists, “the system”) or provide hope and uplift. If it is the latter, few do it better than O’Rourke.