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Beto O’Rourke may be the opposite of Trump – but is that what Texas wants?

The boyish challenger is increasingly popular...among wealthy liberals in $2 million homes

October 17, 2018

4:01 PM

17 October 2018

4:01 PM

Donald Trump’s dominance of the US political scene shows up in surprising ways, at surprising moments. For instance, in the retort of an exuberant Democratic senatorial candidate striving for headway in a televised debate with his incumbent Republican opponent.

‘He’s dishonest,’ says Congressman Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke, assailing Sen, Ted Cruz. It’s why the president called him Lyin’ Ted, and it’s why the nickname stuck.’

Oh, boy, the Dems are looking to Donald Trump for character references? As I keep saying – and you’ve probably had the same thought – it’s a weird time we live in, getting weirder by the minute.

As for Trump himself, he threw O’Rourke’s flattery back at him, tweeting after the final Cruz-O’Rourke debate, in San Antonio Tuesday night: ‘Beto is a flake.’ To which he added: ‘Ted has long had my Strong Endorsement.’ The White House, meanwhile, signals Trump’s intention next week to headline a mammoth Cruz rally in Houston.

That Lyin’ Ted stuff, a throw-away line from the 2016 presidential debates – it’s so yesterday, so past-tense, what with Cruz more than reconciled to the Trump hegemony and Trump undesirous of losing a red-state Senate seat. Which he almost certainly will not, in spite of copious media attention visited on the prospect of a blue wave carrying Congressman O’Rourke to the first Democratic statewide victory in Texas since 1994. The attention wasn’t reflexive, pro-Democratic hype. The congressman, in the beginning, pushed quite a few voter buttons with his casual style and embrace – prior to the Lyin’ Ted debate – of the weary and widely shared hope for renewed political civility.

Sounded good, yeah; especially coming from the smiling mouth animating a fresh face eventually to be labelled ‘Kennedy-esque’ – the highest compliment some Democrats know how to pay. Not many months ago, few in vast, sprawling Texas were aware El Paso even had a congressman, much less that his name was O’Rourke: more pithily, ‘Beto,’ the Spanish diminutive for ‘Roberto.’

That was until ‘Beto for Senate’ signs (the name is pronounced ‘Bet-oh’) began popping up seemingly all over Texas. I find particularly striking their flowering in the front yards of a lot of $2 million homes: a sign of alienation, in some degree, from Trumpianism. Slim, trim Beto himself began bagging bucks from contributors eager to see him overthrow tight, tense Ted – who had tried in 2016 to leverage a winning presidential bid, using his newly won Senate seat.

By the end of September, O’Rourke had $22.9 million in the bank – twice as much as Cruz. For the third quarter of the year, he raised an amount unprecedented in US Senate contests anywhere – $38 million, none of it from the political action committees whose helps he proudly spurns. Do you smell landslide victory?

Er…not exactly. If many voters seem turned off by Trumpian capers, somewhat larger numbers – to judge from recent polls – seem turned off by O’Rourke’s routine resistance to the Trumpian agenda. He’s for virtually nothing the president is for, including the Kavanaugh nomination.

Of the nomination itself, which O’Rourke acknowledges he would have voted against, Cruz hasn’t made much. This may be because he doesn’t have to make much of it. Trump sympathisers, or cooperators, are angry and energised in Texas, as elsewhere, over the dirty deal an upstanding jurist got from critics and foes, many of whom come across as unhinged.

These sympathisers and cooperators don’t require revving up. Their indignation helps explains the upsurge in Cruz’s poll rankings. A conservative Republican in Texas should lead the Democrat in the race by much more than the 4 to 9 per cent edge ascribed to Cruz by recent polls. There is adequate time, nonetheless, for water already boiling to cook Beto’s once-promising goose.

Readers of political entrails should be wary. Texas’s formidable economic prosperity, like its geographical position on the border with Mexico, augurs a certain degree of cultural and political instability. Those $2 million homes with the ‘Beto’ signs, for instance, point to a ‘Yankee’/millennial influx unsympathetic to the damn-you-leave-me-be attitudes of a more rooted and individualistic Texas. Then there’s the matter of the state’s swelling Hispanic population, which Democrats see as tailor-made for them. ‘Beto’ – Irish as he may be ethnically – hopes to mobilise Hispanic voters against an authentic Hispanic of the Cuban variety. Very ironic. We’ll see how it works out.

For now, most Texas voters seem acclimated to the New York real estate plunger occupying on week days the great house where Ronald Reagan recently dwelt. They grit their teeth at his tweets. They’d love to sign him up for an Amy Vanderbilt seminar. But he delivers. That’s the essence of the matter. Lyin’ Ted is smart enough to lie low when the topic is the splenetic, the explosive, political past.


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