Nothing quite captures the common touch like an Annie Leibovitz photo spread. And nothing quite expresses a vision for America than a candidate for president who, speaking of his own candidacy, says in an interview in Vanity Fair, “I want to be in it. Man, I’m just born to be in it.” This was meant to be former congressman Beto O’Rourke’s flattering and carefully choreographed, formal entry into the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination contest. What was his team thinking? O’Rourke is moving into the presidential campaign, and he is no longer the candidate favored by the national media to defeat the reviled Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.). O’Rourke is trying to sidetrack the ascendancy of the female stars of the Democratic Party, along with a couple of liberal icons.
In all campaigns, but especially in a presidential campaign, there is nothing the media loves more than what Lee Atwater would call the “phenomena candidate” — someone who goes from nowhere to somewhere in a hurry. But O’Rourke is no Barack Obama. Not one national reporter thinks he or she is introducing O’Rourke to the elite operative class who are the only ones following presidential campaigns this early in the election. Sorry, Beto, but the news from your 2020 launch has to be something other than “Beto’s every utterance is golden.” He cannot be the 2020 “phenomena candidate.”
I think O’Rourke and his advisers believed their own spin and were gullible as the media’s siren song promised them smooth sailing, that the press would take whatever they dished out. But presidential campaigns for established candidates such as O’Rourke don’t work that way. Look at the coverage that he got from his first trip to Iowa. Specifically, he had a clownish, overacting and pedantic appearance in Burlington, Iowa. And the media did not gush; it called him out. Splinter News’ Hamilton Nolan commented on the event, writing that it was “all so dumb. Was he coming to ‘announce’ something? No, that had been done in a carefully curated media rollout. Was he coming to ‘learn’ something? No, there was nothing to be learned here except how to violate fire safety codes. Was he coming to have a ‘conversation’ with the people of Iowa? No, that would be like trying to have a conversation inside of a hurricane. So what were all of us reporters doing here?” Hmm. I’ll bet the O’Rourke campaign is scrambling right now, trying to figure out how to temper his arm and hand gesticulations and how to make his entire campaign look less contrived. Good luck. When you have nothing to say, it catches up to you.
Meanwhile, Politico’s Natasha Korecki reported on Friday that “while the 2018 midterm elections set the stage for women making historic gains in Congress — and last month marked another groundbreaking moment when five women officeholders joined the presidential race — no woman on the Democratic side received the kind of wall-to-wall coverage O’Rourke received. And unlike O’Rourke, who rocketed to stardom last year as he raised a record-breaking $80 million in his unexpectedly close defeat to Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, all of them had won their last election.”
The scrutiny of O’Rourke will only intensify as the race goes on. For example, Reuters reports that when he was 15, O’Rourke channeled a psychopath in a disturbing piece of fiction, writing: “One day, as I was driving home from work, I noticed two children crossing the street. They were happy, happy to be free from their troubles …. This happiness was mine by right. I had earned it in my dreams. As I neared the young ones, I put all my weight on my right foot, keeping the accelerator pedal on the floor until I heard the crashing of the two children on the hood, and then the sharp cry of pain from one of the two. I was so fascinated for a moment, that when after I had stopped my vehicle, I just sat in a daze, sweet visions filling my head.” And this man wants to be president? The questions that arise from this are obvious. You can bet the other campaigns are gunning for him. They will make sure that the media makes him respond. And oh by the way, imagine the reaction from Democrats last fall if a young Brett M. Kavanaugh had written this.
Anyway, it is a long way away from actual voting, and O’Rourke, the privileged white male candidate in the Democratic race for president, is already an easy target. The political class craves schadenfreude, and, unfortunately for O’Rourke, his campaign seems the easiest place to find it.