Politics & Policy

Messing with Texas, Yet Again

Rep. Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Houston, Texas, November 11, 2017. (William Philpott/Reuters)
Democrats resurrect the dream that never dies: turning the Lone Star State blue.

If you want to get your left-leaning friends all fired up — and maybe, if they’re political junkies, even veering into the territory of delirious excitement — start talking about turning Texas blue. More specifically, as we inch our way toward the 2018 midterms, you can start talking about Beto O’Rourke, the newest heartthrob of Texas Democrats and beyond.

“It’s happening again,” Mimi Swartz wrote in the New York Times last May. “The stirring of the heart. The quickening of the pulse. The desire to abandon reality, even if you suspect there’s a world of hurt to come. Love, thy name is Beto.” O’Rourke, a congressman from El Paso, will probably challenge Ted Cruz for his Senate seat this fall, earning giddy media speculation along the way.

“Meet the Kennedyesque Democrat Trying to Beat Ted Cruz,” declared Vanity Fair last spring, noting that “Beto O’Rourke is reviving hopes of turning Texas blue again.” In September, Rolling Stone called him “Ted Cruz’s Punk-Rock Problem.” (O’Rourke used to play in a band.) On February 26, CBS News chimed in: “Rep. Beto O’Rourke could mean blue wave hits deep red Texas in Senate race.” Just this week, CNN’s Chris Cillizza siren-blared the following headline: “Senate Key Race Alert: Texas Is No Longer Solid Republican.” (The story, which focuses on O’Rourke’s recent impressive fundraising, somewhat begrudgingly notes that “Cruz still holds a clear advantage in the race.”)

Then there’s the local coverage of O’Rourke’s events, which tend to infuse O’Rourke’s gatherings in middle-school gyms with “frantic energy” and a surge of mysticism on the side. In February, the New York Times ran an in-depth profile of O’Rourke, calling him “The Lone Star Long Shot Who Wants to Topple Ted Cruz.” Meeting with a group in Beaumont, Texas, O’Rourke “appealed to their sense of virtue,” declaring that “we’ve got to be for the big, aspirational, ambitious things.”

It truly would be a big, aspirational, and ambitious thing — if O’Rourke were to win the Senate seat. As the Times piece notes, “no Democrat has won a statewide office in Texas since 1994, the year before Amazon sold its first book.” But turning Texas blue, for many on the Democratic side of the aisle, is the fever dream that never dies. Google the words “Texas blue wave,” in fact, and you will reap a digitized and passionate wave of hopes and dreams that might knock you out of your chair.

Also, as an aside, I should clarify that I have nothing against Beto O’Rourke. I would never vote for him, given that he has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood and a “vision” for single-payer health care, and a host of other half-baked ideas — including one he recently abandoned that involved mandating a year of government service, despite the fact that people already de facto serve the government by forking over income taxes. But he seems like a nice enough guy.

Democrats look at the wild success of Texas — a state that’s drawing people who are fleeing Illinois, New York, and other blue states — study it a for bit and then say, ‘Ah, yes. Texas needs to be more like Illinois or New York!’

My problem, however, is this: Why is it that, time and time again, Democrats and media players look at the wild success of Texas — a state that is growing and thriving and drawing people who are fleeing Illinois, New York, and other blue states — study it a for bit, scratch their chins like a herd of drunk professors, and then say, “Ah, yes. Texas needs to be more like Illinois or New York!”? I myself fled a blue state five years ago, and I can tell you that I didn’t move to Texas so that it could be more like Illinois. (Illinois, much to its chagrin, recently joined New York and New Jersey to make up the top three in the latest United Van Lines survey of America’s most-fled states.)

Scoff if you will, but Texas, as state residents are famous for reminding anyone who will listen, is a glorious place. I’m always a bit shocked to hear someone new to the state — and there is always someone new, often from San Francisco or Silicon Valley or Brooklyn or what have you — confessing their shock and alarm that they’ve actually moved to . . . gasp . . . Texas. They moved to Texas, of course, because it is more affordable and has low taxes and is home to three of the top-ten fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States; plus, it doesn’t propose bills to put waiters in jail if they serve unwanted bendy straws. (That place, in case you’re wondering, is California.)

Could it be that these desirable traits are largely the result of conservative policies? Nah, couldn’t be.

Regardless, the enthusiastic beat to turn Texas blue goes on. This is nothing new: Wendy Davis’s epic gubernatorial loss to Greg Abbott was prefaced with months of breathless, over-the-top coverage, largely driven by her terrifying level of abortion fandom. O’Rourke’s campaign appears its worthy heir, at least when it comes to delirious media coverage. Perhaps his impressive round of fundraising will actually translate into success. The odds seem better that the unfinished, baffling quest to turn Texas blue will live to fight another day.

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