In the Woke War against Beto, Root for Beto

Former Democratic Texas Senate candidate Rep. Beto O’Rourke gestures at his midterm election night party in El Paso, Texas, November 6, 2018. (Adria Malcolm/REUTERS)
Or risk the possibility of a President Bernie Sanders.

Earlier this morning, Robert “Beto” O’Rourke announced that he’s running for president, and there are two things I believe with equal intensity. First, I don’t want Beto to be president. He’s a culturally left economic progressive who may be the serious candidate closest to an actual open-borders position on immigration. Second, I don’t want to see the Democratic party become so radical — and so obsessed with matters of race and privilege — that even Beto is too “moderate” to win.

So, in the woke war against Beto, I’m rooting for Beto to win.

And make no mistake, the woke war is on. Just read the critiques that have been rolling in from the online Left. At CNN, Nia-Malika Henderson argues that Beto’s “adventures” after his Senate loss to Ted Cruz “drip with white male privilege.” “His political identity,” she claims, “is predicated on being white and male.” It’s this “privilege” that “allows him to turn a loss to the most despised candidate of the cycle into a launching pad for a White House run.”

At the New York Times, Lisa Lerer analyzed the alleged “privilege of being Beto” and reported on simmering resentment in Democratic ranks:

In quiet and not-so-quiet complaints, Democratic strategists argue that the relatively positive reception to Mr. O’Rourke’s untraditional approach is evidence, yet again, of the deep double standard female candidates face. While his defenders argue that Mr. O’Rourke can’t be blamed for gender dynamics he didn’t create, his critics say he is being given a benefit of the doubt that wouldn’t be extended to a woman or a candidate of color.

And if we want to talk about pure policy, the Washington Post’s Elizabeth Bruenig makes the socialist case against Beto. Bruenig only calls him “progressive-ish.” He didn’t join the House Progressive Caucus. He didn’t sponsor House single-payer or free-college bills. He calls the “decision between oil and gas and renewable energy sources ‘a false choice.’”

To conservative ears, the idea of Beto as a progressive squish sounds odd. After all, this is the same guy who told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes that he’d take down the wall between El Paso and Mexico. He’s resolute on abortion rights. He’s fluent in intersectionality. He wants to ban so-called assault weapons.

But he’s an Obama-style progressive when millions of members of the Democratic-party base have moved on. They’re frustrated with Obama-style politics. They’ve given up on unifying messages. They’re sick of white men, unless the white man is an avowed socialist — and even then he’s still suspect.

I know there are Republicans who chortle at all this. There’s a long bipartisan history of rooting for the opposing party to go nuts — to nominate someone either so extreme or so bizarre that they guarantee an electoral loss. Remember this famous National Review cover?

But never forget that in 2016 the Democrats did their share of chortling when Donald Trump dominated the primaries. They thought it was hilarious that Republicans had actually nominated the least-liked politician in the history of favorability polling. They kept laughing until about 11:00 p.m. on Election Night — when Florida was lost, Ohio was lost, and it looked quite clear that the Philadelphia precincts weren’t going to save Hillary from disaster.

Right now, the Democratic front-runner is a man who used to gush with praise for the Soviet Union and even defended bread lines. Another leading contender has proudly promised to eliminate every private health-insurance program in America. Virtually every important Democratic candidate (including Beto) has endorsed or spoken glowingly about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal — a progressive program of staggering expense and scope.

So now it’s the Republicans’ turn to laugh. That’s a curious position for a party that just lost the House and got crushed by suburban Americans who were once loyal GOP voters. It’s an especially curious position for a party whose standard-bearer is sitting on a 41.7 percent approval rating — just as it was curious for Democrats to feel so confident when Hillary was at their helm.

In a time of extreme polarization, ideology matters far less than party identification, and it’s now entirely possible that even Bernie Sanders could win the White House. It’s possible that the ideas that were once on the fringe even of Democratic politics in, say, 2012 could become the signature legislative initiatives of a new Democratic president. Against this backdrop — and for the health of the republic — it’s time for Americans to root for both parties to pick the least-bad option. Consequently, if Beto stands between the Democrats and the full embrace of both socialism and identity politics, then I’ll take Beto every time.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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