Bubbles are fragile things in politics, and the Beto bubble has already burst. Not six months ago, Robert Francis O’Rourke, better known as “Beto,” was approaching the status of national hero. The congressman from El Paso, Texas, a Democrat, was giving incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz a run for his money for re-election in Texas. Mr. O’Rourke, telegenic and well spoken, raised record sums of campaign cash, and, while he fell short of winning, he lost by only 2 percentage points in blood-red Texas, and won more votes than Hillary Clinton did as a presidential candidate in the state two years earlier.
So it wasn’t an unreasonable expectation that Mr. O’Rourke, in an era when there’s life after losing, would get a pass to the presidential sweepstakes. He announced his entrance into the race a few weeks ago to a deafening drum roll from the easily impressed media. Although it’s still very, very early. it may be that the first day of his campaign will turn out to have been his best.
Mere months after shilling relentlessly for Beto, the national media has discovered an unforgivable scandal in his past. He was born a white man. “Beto” may sound vaguely Hispanic, but he might as well be Paddy O’Rourke because he’s of sturdy Irish stock. A story in the Daily Beast laments his “unbearable male privilege.” In a single day, CNN mentioned his dirty ethnic secret more than 50 times, according to the indefatigable media monitors at News Busters. Andrew Gillum, a young black Democrat from Florida who was nearly elected governor of Florida last year, lamented in The New York Times that loser or not Beto “enjoys a set of privileges in his decision-making that other candidates don’t.”
Mr. O’Rourke has been rightly scolded for his vague policy platform. He prefers to speak in hoary cliches, bromides and platitudes. He married into fabulous wealth — no crime in that, a rich girl is entitled to love, too — and faced particular scrutiny for looking after his billionaire father-in-law’s business interests when he was a member of the El Paso city council.
“The euphoria that greeted O’Rourke’s entry into the race three weeks earlier has started to subside,” observes Politico, the political daily. “The inevitable slog of competing in a packed Democratic primary is underway, and [Mr.] O’Rourke has not yet drawn the wave of national adulation from the left that his Senate run against Ted Cruz last year received. [He] has seen little movement in polls since he announced And while he sprinted from college campuses and coffee shops to house parties across Iowa, a more established contender, Bernie Sanders, was drawing even larger audiences.”
To make matters rum, a new young, telegenic, and equally white candidate has stolen much of Beto’s thunder. Pete Buttigieg, 37, is getting the national attention that only yesterday was going to Beto. “Mayor Pete,” as he’s called on account of his hard-to-pronounce name (his father was an immigrant from Malta), is as impressive and maybe more than Robert Francis O’Rourke. Beto spent much of his early youth wandering aimlessly, and Mayor Pete attended Harvard and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He’s a former a naval officer, served a tour in Afghanistan and is said to speak eight languages. He’s gay, with a husband (or maybe he’s the wife) but he has not made a big deal of that. He scorns identity politics and has even drawn flak from the left for not running as the gay candidate. “From what I’ve seen,” writes a contributor to Slate magazine, “[Mr.] Buttigieg doesn’t seem terribly sold on the idea of gayness as a cultural framework, formative identity, or anything more than a category of sexual and romantic behavior.” This was said as mildly critical. But if not gay, Mayor Pete seems cheerful enough.
A 37-year-old mayor of a city of only 100,000 is probably too green to pick. But that, like marrying rich, serving three unremarkable terms in the House and losing a Senate race, may be qualifications enough in our strange and unfamiliar times in the bubbles.
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