The Corner

Elections

Life Is a Lot Harder When You’re Not Running against Ted Cruz

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)

All of a sudden Beto O’Rourke, the candidate who was most beloved by the national press in 2018, is getting brutal coverage in 2019.

The Week declares the pranks he played on his wife are “downright disgusting,” Slate is mocking his standing on countertops, and MSNBC commentators groan that he’s exhibiting white-male privilege.

Over at the Bulwark, Tim Miller contends that some of O’Rourke’s biggest fans in the media have turned against him because he’s now an obstacle to their referred candidates — Bernie Sanders, primarily — and if he gains traction with a soft-focus “Hope and Change 2.0” approach, then the rest of the Democratic party will back away from the “It’s time for a socialist revolution” tone they’ve embraced in recent months. Why embrace controversial proposals like reparations, abolishing private health insurance and specific Green New Deal legislation when you can just offer happy talk about brighter tomorrows and the American spirit?

(O’Rourke’s split-the-baby approach to the AR-15 is to ban the sale of new rifles, but allow current owners to keep the ones they have. Apparently, it’s safe enough for everyone to keep, but simultaneously so dangerous that no one should be allowed to buy another one.)

I think there’s another factor, though. In retrospect, the O’Rourke-mania of 2018 was a misallocation of resources. Sure, O’Rourke was way better than the average Texas Democratic statewide candidate, but the only way he was going to beat Ted Cruz was if the incumbent Republican got lazy and took his victory for granted — and Cruz made clear early on that he wasn’t going to do that. (O’Rourke’s past significant victories on the El Paso City Council and in his Democratic House primary were driven in large part by him out-hustling a too-comfortable incumbent.)

Overestimating a favorite candidate’s odds of victory is a small mistake. But committing $80 million — and an unparalleled amount of national media attention — to a long-shot candidate is a much bigger mistake. But it gets even worse for Democrats. Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, two of the progressive Left’s favorite candidates of 2018, fell just short of victory in Georgia and Florida. (Both candidates are now publicly contending that their election victories were stolen from them.) In hindsight, the $80 million donated to O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign looks like a waste. How differently would those races have turned out if $20 million of O’Rourke’s bundle had been redistributed with $5 million each to say, Abrams, Gillum, Senator Bill Nelson, and Ohio gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray?

A significant number of progressive Democrats look at O’Rourke and see a guy who was given unprecedented resources and advantages, fell short, and wants another chance at it, this time with even more resources and for higher stakes. Is it any wonder they fear a repeat of 2018?

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