Beto O’Rourke: A small fish in a big pond

Jon Riker, Contributing Writer

American businessman and Democratic politician Beto O’Rourke might be one of the only political figures who is riding high after a loss. An expected one, to be sure (turning Texas blue is, for now, one of those phrases that can be placed among “when pigs fly” and “when hell freezes over”). Even the most dedicated O’Rourke fan, though, can admit that the jump from running for Senate and then losing to becoming a candidate for President of the United States is a large one, and would be rather unprecedented if not for the current President’s 2016 victory. While some Democrats may shrug off O’Rourke’s lack of experience on account of his charisma and energy, this would be extraordinarily foolish and would ride on the assumption that U.S. President Donald Trump is going down easily in 2020.


O’Rourke’s story is admittedly a puzzling one. He garnered nationwide fame on cable news through a Spartacus-style campaign against the much maligned Ted Cruz, unpopular amongst his colleagues, Republicans and Democrats alike. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner once remarked that Cruz was “Lucifer in the flesh,” and Senator Lindsey Graham famously said that “if you killed Ted Cruz on the floor of the Senate, and the trial was in the Senate, nobody would convict you.”

The story of O’Rourke is almost invariably tied to Cruz. O’Rourke’s name is only recognizable because of the aggressive campaign he ran against Cruz and the amount of media coverage that followed. Yet even when running against a widely disliked Senator, O’Rourke lost. His debate performances were consistent with his idea that he should focus on what he believes in rather than attacking the other candidate, which resulted in O’Rourke being tossed around by Cruz in the debates, often refusing to contradict easily refutable claims, and letting his record be spun.


While I admire the spirit of his optimistic idea that people will rectify this sort of misinformation by themselves, I thoroughly contradict it. Though it is important that the 2020 campaign is not explicitly an anti-Trump campaign, it is also important for Democrats not to appear weak. It is a tightrope that they must walk, and there are stronger debaters in the Democratic field who are able to appear shaped by integrity while also being able to strongly refute Trump’s and others’ strongman and baseless rhetoric. This flaw may not be a hindrance for the rest of O’Rourke’s political career, but it does indicate a lack of experience debating on a higher level. As much as O’Rourke may condemn it, a campaign requires a certain amount of confrontation with your opponent.


While O’Rourke has experience as a member of the El Paso City Council and a member of the House of Representatives, there are not vast swaths of information about his history, successes, and failures, because he does not have the typical experience we would expect of a presidential candidate. He has not spent any time in the U.S. Senate, his administrative experience is minimal, and his experience in interacting with administrations across the aisle is also limited. He needed to win that race against Cruz, but now he should run for the Senate again in 2020 and then for president when his career has matured.


I do not deny O’Rourke’s appeal, his political skill, or his ideology; I was one of the people captured by the 2018 Texas Senate race. I watched him travel around all of the counties of Texas from his Facebook live and wished I could move to Texas only to vote for him and then promptly leave. His bipartisan attitude is refreshing, to say the least, and his optimism captures a similar spirit to that of Obama’s in 2008. But there are fundamental flaws to his political approach. He has not made a name for himself as anyone besides “The Guy Who Ran Against Ted Cruz,” and he lacks the experience to run a campaign on this level or effectively run an administration. He will be a good asset to have campaigning for whoever ends up being the nominee, and he may be a good VP pick, but this is not the time for an O’Rourke presidency. He is not ready yet, though I hope that one day he is, as his spirit is the future spirit of the country.


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