Is Beto O’Rourke the next US president?
Admittedly, it’s a bit of a long shot and, in honesty, the headline is simply designed to grab your attention, and given that you’re this far into the article already I’m assuming it’s worked. You probably haven’t heard of Beto O’Rourke unless you either live in the US or have taken a fairly keen interest in the upcoming US mid-term elections.
So let’s introduce Beto first of all, or to give him his Christian name Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, a 45 year old congressman representing El Paso County in Texas, a small but liberal area in an enormous state. There are 254 counties in Texas, a state that would be the 39th largest country in the world if it were ever independent. It’s 287% the land mass of the UK with 42% of the population and 58% of the GDP.
Texas, in the course of the last 50 years has only had one Democratic senator, and is a state where Trump claimed one of his largest victories in the 2016 election, taking 52% of the vote. For a state like Texas to elect a democratic candidate of O’Rourke’s politics would seem almost inconceivable at any other time were it not for the most controversial president in modern history, and yet he sits on the precipice of achieving just that.
At the time of writing, the polls are agonisingly close for O’Rourke, who has been polling either a small lead or a difference within the margin of error leading American pollsters FiveThirtyEight to declare the race a ‘toss up’, which for Texas is absolutely ludicrous.
For years the Democrats have been dreaming of turning Texas blue but with every ray of hope has come an almighty beating, with recent candidates thrashed easily. Ted Cruz is no novice, either, with the experienced senator famously running to be the Republican nomination for a run at the Presidency in 2016, only to be decimated by Trump who named him “Lyin’ Ted”.
In a profile for Vanity Fair last year, they asked Harold Cook, a long-time Democratic strategist in Texas for his thoughts, “In a typical year . . . the only thing you have to do in Texas to win an election is be the Republican nominee and avoid getting hit by a bus before Election Day.” Cook also believes that 2018 could be the year of opportunity that Democrats have dreamed of. He said of O’Rourke’s entry into the race that it was “an embarrassment of riches” that he is “not exactly sure Texas Democrats deserve”. “It is not just wishing because Ted Cruz is an ass. It’s more than that,” Cook said. “To separate this from wishing, you really do have to have an overriding, probably national, cloud over the Republican brand. I can’t think of a bigger cloud than Donald Trump.”
But there are many, including commentators at FiveThirtyEight, who are still sceptical of O’Rourke’s chances against Cruz and predict that, rather than beating him, he will run him desperately close and perhaps even close enough to be considered a choice for the 2020 presidential election.
The school of thought runs that, should O’Rourke beat Cruz, he is likely to see out his term as Senator before launching any bid for the presidency, but should he lose by a very small margin in a state such as Texas then there will be an almighty clamour for him to put himself forward for the presidential primaries.
O’Rourke, an extremely charismatic public speaker has a style rarely seen before which has led some to compare him to a Kennedy not just in looks, but also in his ability to bring people together. He went viral recently for his answer to a question asked by a voter with regards to his opinion on whether kneeling for the national anthem is ‘not American’. O’Rourke went on to provide an answer that left the room giving him a standing ovation where he described peaceful protest as the most American thing he can think of.
Since then the momentum that the politician has enjoyed has felt, at times, extremely difficult to stop. He is currently garnering an enormous social media following, has visited every single district in Texas and is commanding huge crowds for his rallies all across the state.
Not just that, O’Rourke prides himself on the fact that he has accepted no nominations from so called PAC’s (Political Action Groups), typically made up of wealthy individuals and businesses. Instead, he has raised over $20 million in small donations from Democratic party members and members of the public, which really is quite incredible.
If we cast our minds back to the ultimately doomed campaign by Bernie Sanders to secure the Democratic nomination for 2016, one of his biggest strengths was his ability to command the support of such a broad and large base.
The Democratic race for the nomination in 2020 is likely to be one of the most crowded in modern history with up to 20 in the running to make their pitch to the American people. Currently most have Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden as the favourites but should Beto fall at the last hurdle against Cruz in a few weeks don’t be surprised to see powerful calls for his inclusion in the presidential primaries.
Given his charisma, his positivity and public speaking ability it really wouldn’t be absurd to imagine O’Rourke not just winning the primaries but also the presidency. If Trump stands as the antithesis to compassionate and kind politics then O’Rourke could be the antidote. Keep your eyes on this one.