Beto O’Rourke is many things. But he is definitely not a fighter. And that’s why it would be a huge mistake for the Democrats to nominate him to take on President Trump in 2020 for the White House. Simply put, Beto cannot beat Donald Trump. Someone else, maybe. But not Trump.
It’s not Beto’s fault he’s not a fighter. After all, he’s led a very charmed, privileged life as a white male. He’s faced very little adversity. He didn’t come from nothing. He didn’t have to fight and scrape his way to the top because of his gender or race or economic circumstances. He has no experience doing battle in high-stakes business or leading tough negotiations. He hasn’t ever fought for working people in contentious situations.
I understand why he says he wants his campaign to be only positive: he hates confrontation, because he has so little experience in it. He doesn’t like to get his uniform dirty.
Sadly, you can’t beat Trump by preaching about puppies and daisies and reciting poetry. Being positive and singing Kumbaya doesn’t work. You beat Trump only by getting down in the gutter with him, taking an enormous amount of punishment but giving more than you take. My fear is that by putting Beto up against Trump, the Democrats would be choosing one of the few politicians in America who could elevate Trump, both as a man and as a fighter. That’s because, for all Beto’s good looks, energy and enthusiasm, he comes across as a cheerleader. And a cheerleader doesn’t beat Trump.
Let me explain. Donald Trump is in many ways the kryptonite for the Democratic party. He’s an incredibly tough operator. A heavy puncher. A no-holds brawler. He embodies pretty much everything Democrat voters despise, but he won’t be defeated by a candidate who represents everything Democrat voters love. To beat Trump, the Democrats need a candidate who is as tough as him. And that is a serious problem. Because to quote a high-level Democratic party official to me last year – ‘The Democratic party has always had a lot of talent, but not a lot of fighters.’
The problem with Beto is he’s not tough. Worse, all indications are that he has a glass jaw. That’s largely because he’s not had to take any punches. Instead he’s had nothing but fawning media coverage. In many ways, his Senate campaign against Ted Cruz was the worst thing that could have happened to his presidential ambitions. Remember, he ran against – and lost to – one of the most hated politicians in America. But pitted against Cruz (a man once memorably referred to as ‘Lucifer’ by John Boehner), the press fell in love with the idea of Beto, a tall, telegenic, youthful, ‘Kennedy-esque’ candidate. As a result, he faced no difficult questions and little scrutiny. Instead, he enjoyed a honeymoon few politicians, if any, have ever experienced. And it means he is not battle hardened the way a presidential candidate needs to be. Must be. Especially against Trump.
Yes, Beto can talk all he likes about wanting only to run a positive presidential campaign. But Earth to Beto: that’s not how presidential campaigns work and that’s not how they are won. If you don’t believe me, talk to Michael Dukakis. Campaigning only positively, you will do well with many, but ultimately you will lose. Most certainly against Trump, who has no bounds. Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama knew that if you want to be president you have to be prepared to fight in every way possible, and sometimes that means campaigning negatively and getting your hands, and uniform, dirty.
Beto said recently he was ‘born for this’, but to me that quote only sums up why he is a candidate who stands zero chance of winning against Trump. It demonstrates he is more in love with being a candidate – a rock star at the center of the Beto Show – than he is in beating Trump and restoring this country to what it needs to be, and to where it needs to go. He loves the show. He loves being the celebrity prepared to share on social media with millions of people footage of himself having his teeth cleaned or doing his laundry. But the people of the United States, I believe, now want as a leader someone serious, who appears presidential, who looks and acts the part. They don’t want a guy on a skateboard who loves hanging out in the Whataburger parking lot. A guy who can’t even call Ted Cruz out for lying without then almost immediately apologizing for it.
Of course, Beto has to be judged in the same way all politicians are, which is to say his stance on important issues must be examined. His record of voting against Obamacare or climate change issues, for example, will likely prove increasingly problematic should he run against Trump, as will his close ties to the fossil fuel industry. But more than that, a presidential candidate must also be judged on the aura he exudes.
Already some people have begun comparing Beto to Obama or even to JFK, but this is nonsense. First, there will only ever be one Obama or JFK, and, second, both of these great men had a toughness that Beto doesn’t possess. We certainly didn’t see it against Cruz. And in the video in which he announced his decision to run, he couldn’t even bring himself to mention Trump once by name. You don’t beat Trump by ignoring him or running away from him. You beat him by squaring off with him.
There’s an old saying: Democrats fall in love, while Republicans fall in line. But falling in love with Beto would be a huge mistake. Perhaps in five or nine years, he might have success on the national stage. Or perhaps he would be well suited to taking on a different candidate. But right now, he is not the candidate to match-up against Trump.
When choosing our candidate to run for president, Democrats shouldn’t be thinking about who’d make the best president. It’s not about who is the smartest candidate or the most experienced. It’s not about who looks the best in a suit or a dress. Instead, it must be about one thing and one thing only: who has the skill set and qualities to actually beat Trump? It’s not Beto O’Rourke.