“You’re right,” O’Rourke responded. “There are things that I have been privileged to do in my life that others cannot. And I think the more that I travel and listen to people and learn from them, the clearer that becomes to me. . . . I’ve had advantages that others could not enjoy — so being aware of that and then doing everything in my power to help correct that.”
The sit-down interview was O’Rourke’s first on daytime television since launching his campaign two months ago and it was part of a shift in strategy as he lags in many polls and struggles to raise money. In addition to doing more national television interviews over the past two weeks and scheduling his first televised town hall for next Tuesday on CNN in Des Moines, O’Rourke has started campaigning with his wife, Amy O’Rourke, and attending private fundraisers, something that his aides once boasted that he didn’t need to spend time doing.
With 22 Democrats now running for president, national television has become the go-to place for candidates looking to introduce themselves to voters, win over donors and share their policy ideas. Candidates who have found a way to stand out from the crowd — including Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind. — have often done so during highly produced town halls organized by television networks, not the more informal ones hosted by their campaigns.
“I can do a better job, also, of talking to a national audience, beyond the town halls that we’re having,” O’Rourke explained to MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Monday night during his first visit to her show, a stop that most Democratic candidates made much earlier in their campaigns. “I have an opportunity to answer your questions, Rachel, and address those who may not have been able to attend them and make sure that they can hear what this campaign is about and how I answer the questions that are put to me. So I hope that I’m continuing to do better over time.”
Just before O’Rourke appeared on “The View” on Tuesday morning, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) announced that she had turned down a request from Fox News to participate in a town hall because doing so would add “money to the hate-for-profit machine.” Warren has appeared on Fox News in the past, but the move served to separate her from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who participated in a Fox News town hall in April that attracted more than 2.5 million viewers, according to early Nielsen data.
“A Democratic town hall gives the Fox News sales team a way to tell potential sponsors it’s safe to buy ads on Fox — no harm to their brand or reputation (spoiler: It’s not),” Warren said in a series of tweets.
Buttigieg plans to participate in a Fox News town hall on Sunday, and several other candidates, including O’Rourke, have said they are open to the idea.
Walking onto the set of “The View” carried risk for O’Rourke, as several of the hosts had already criticized him. Co-host Whoopi Goldberg said on the air in March that much of the excitement about O’Rourke’s campaign seemed centered on his ability to fundraise, not his ability to lead a country.
“Something I heard him say was that he realized he was a guy with white privilege and so he also felt he needed a female to run with him. Well, my question is: What makes you think she wants to be your vice president? Why would you think she needed you to do that?” Goldberg asked, referring to a comment that O’Rourke made that he would be open to having a female running mate. “You have to be careful with privilege like that because things slip out your mouth, so you’ve got to really sort of clamp down before you open it and have foot inserted.”
During that same conversation, Abby Huntsman — the daughter of former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., who is now Trump’s ambassador to Russia — said that she once dated “this white bro” who said something similar about being born to run for president.
“It lasted about a week,” said Huntsman, who is now on maternity leave. “Look, I know these guys. . . . There are guys like that who believe it.”
“WMP! WMP!” Goldberg said in ending that March segment, her shorthand for “white male privilege.”
She then quickly shifted and asked O’Rourke to come on the show: “Beto, don’t let me put you off. Okay?”
On Tuesday, nearly two months later, O’Rourke showed up — and within minutes was agreeing with the hosts’ points of view. He also used the platform to go on offense, speaking Spanish (“I’m impressed,” one host said) and laying out his approach to this campaign: Focus on issues that unite the country, not those that divide, and reach out to all Americans.
The hosts asked O’Rourke if his six years in Congress have properly prepared him to be president (he noted that no one person can solve the nation’s problems), what his wife thought of his comment about being a part-time dad (she urged him to rethink it, he said, adding: “Listen, I have a lot to learn and still am, and I’m learning from the best”) and how he would handle “nasty” attacks from Trump (“We cannot descend into more of that division and bitterness and hatred and racism that so defines that man,” he said).
During “a policy speed round,” O’Rourke rattled through some of his stances: On cash reparations to African Americans, he said that the country needs to tell “the full, true story of how this country was founded on the backs of people who were kidnapped” before “any transfer of wealth or money.” Asked about universal health care, he simply said, “yes.” Regarding immigration, O’Rourke promised to not “put kids in cages,” to free young undocumented immigrants from the fear of deportation, to lift visa caps and to rewrite immigration law. When the topic turned to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, O’Rourke said he doesn’t support abolishing the agency, “but we should abolish some of these internal enforcement practices.”
O’Rourke also insisted that he’s not daunted by his poll numbers, which are often in the single digits and well behind several other Democratic candidates.
“There’s a lot of time,” he said. “Those polls will change — there will be ups, there are going to be downs, and there are a lot of people to meet.”
Annie Linskey and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.