The Morning Jolt


Republicans: Don’t Underestimate Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke campaigns during the recording of the “Political Party Live” podcast in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, March 15, 2019. (Ben Brewer/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: the familiar tale of a Texas man overcoming youthful indiscretions to rise to the top of national politics, Joe Biden is already thinking about a running mate, and a well-known congresswoman tells a tale about her test scores that just doesn’t add up.

A Familiar Story of a Rising Political Star in the Lone Star State

He’s a Texan, the son of a man prominent in state politics and an all-around success in life. The Texan grew up with alternating affection for and intermittent tension with his well-known, accomplished father, with the heavy question of how he would ever emerge from his father’s shadow. He went off to boarding and prep school on the East Coast, then on to the Ivy Leagues. Young adulthood was a surprisingly difficult time for a young man who grew up with so many advantages: too much partying, a sense of prolonged adolescence, hitting rock bottom with run-ins with the law after drinking too much and getting behind the wheel. Years later, people would ask if the family connections spared him the worst possible legal consequences of his reckless behavior in his younger years. But he met a woman from a good family, who works in education, and marriage and parenthood brought maturity and stability to his life — the bottle stopped becoming such an issue in his life.

He eventually tried his hand at entrepreneurship, swearing he never wanted to be a politician like his father. But when an opportunity in Texas politics appeared, he took it, out-hustling a Democratic incumbent who had been far too confident about the voters’ mood on Election Day. Rivals and critics in both parties saw him as a servant of his donors, mixing business and government, capable of making a backroom real-estate deal sound like a public service aimed to help everyone. He talked a good game about controlling spending and reducing the size of government, but his instinct that government had a duty to help people usually won out in budget fights.

He believed immigration brought great benefits to America, and that illegal immigrants should be treated with dignity and respect — and an opportunity to become a citizen if they had avoided serious legal trouble. His rivals saw a lightweight, coasting on charm and charisma and good humor, with limited serious thought about difficult issues. His wife was a great asset, although she had never been a huge fan of his political ambitions. She worried about how her husband’s political life would affect their children. The Texan was elected in a good year for his party and managed to get reelected in a year when the national winds were against his party. The national media descended upon Texas, writing about him and asking whether he was the future of the party.

Then, surprisingly early in his political career, he chose to run for president. Despite having only been in a major office for six years, the Texan’s party saw great potential in him, and responded with a wave of donations. They were hungry for a winner. His party had experienced a shocking defeat to a president they deemed a national embarrassment and even illegitimate — a shameless, scandal-ridden womanizer up to his neck in crooked land deals and who lied as easily as he breathed. His boring vice president was regularly trotted out to tout the president’s virtues, and most members of the president’s party echoed his claims that the work of the special counsel was a partisan witch hunt.

The Texan pledged he could restore America’s sense of pride. On the stump, he rarely went deep into policy specifics. He preferred to emphasize that America was better than the flaws of its current president, and that honor and dignity could return to the Oval Office. He wasn’t always the most eloquent, and sometimes he mangled his message. But a lot of the people who came to hear him speak came away convinced his heart was in the right place and he could restore their optimism in America’s future.

That’s Beto O’Rourke. But that’s also George W. Bush.

Fans of both men will probably scoff at the comparison and insist they’re nothing alike. But it’s a sign that Republicans probably shouldn’t underestimate the appeal of a laid-back, easygoing guy who can generate a mood of optimism in his stump speech.

Biden-Abrams, Coming Soon?

Mike Allen says Joe Biden’s team is thinking of “packaging his presidential campaign announcement with a pledge to choose Stacey Abrams as his vice president.” Biden and Abrams held a private meeting a week ago.

Wouldn’t that be a shock from the bizarre writer’s room that’s imagining the twists and turns of our political life, if the polling frontrunner picked the woman who’s most popular among the Democratic grassroots, and more or less locked up the nomination from the very start? What if the 2020 Democratic presidential primary — which was starting to look like a combination of Thunderdome, the Hundred Years’ War, and The Hunger Games – turns out to be a slow-motion coronation, a forced marriage of the Party Establishment and the progressive grassroots?

The top tier candidates — Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren (maybe), and Beto O’Rourke probably wouldn’t go away quietly and acquiesce to a coronation. In fact, they might have to pull out all the stops to derail it. The election of a Biden-Abrams ticket next year would lead to either a reelection bid in 2024 or Biden serving one term and Vice President Abrams running in 2024 . . .  and then possibly reelection in 2028. Every other Democrat might have to put their political ambitions on hold until 2032, and/or hope to be selected as Abrams’s running mate. By that far-off date, O’Rourke will be old news, Harris and Warren would be the elder stateswomen of the party, and Sanders would be 91 years old.

There was a time when Americans might think twice about taking a state assemblywoman and putting her a heartbeat away from the presidency — the heartbeat of a president who would turn 78 shortly after his election! But that was before we gave the Oval Office keys to a reality television star who had never served in government.

Those Hated, But Relatively Objective, Standardized Tests

Over at RedState, Joe Cunningham notices this detail in a recent story from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez about how her teachers underestimated her abilities, and how it couldn’t possibly have occurred the way the congresswoman described:

It was a bit jarring to hear AOC say that she was treated in the Yorktown schools as in need of remedial education because she was Hispanic, not mainstream, but, she said, “a-high-stakes standardized Test” revealed she was in the 99th percentile. No one stopped to point out that she could not be referring to any high-stakes test used for accountability purposes because they don’t rank by percentile. They classify students as 1, 2, 3, or 4. Her teacher must have given her a no-stakes individual test that produces a percentile ranking for diagnostic purposes. Well, she can’t know everything about everything. None of us do.

We all have our little personal mythologies about how we succeeded, overcame obstacles, proved the doubters wrong, and were underestimated and undervalued every step of the way. When you’re a politician, any foggy memories or exaggerations will get fact-checked by your audience.

One last note on this: Lots of people dislike standardized tests; I griped about them earlier this month. But it is worth noting that in the recent college-admissions scandal, the rich not-so-smart kids had to hire someone to take the test for them, have the proctor change their answers, read the test ahead of time, or cheat in other ways. In other words, while people administering the test could be bought off, the actual test itself was an objective measure that couldn’t be charmed or influenced. You can’t really B.S. your way through the SAT or ACT. The test doesn’t care if your dad is the mayor or your mom is the principal. You can make lucky guesses (I remember being encouraged to pick one if you could eliminate two of the four answers) but your luck will run out eventually.

Almost everything else in education is at least somewhat subjective and variable. School and teacher quality can vary a lot, some teachers are tougher graders than others, some teachers can play favorites, and schools’ reputations can be overinflated or underestimated. But everybody takes the same SAT or ACT.

ADDENDUM: Polling finds support for impeachment dropping. Democrats probably thought they would have the Mueller report by now. The closer we get to Election Day, the sillier it seems to impeach a president who’s about to be evaluated by the country at the ballot box within two years/a year/months.

And if Trump gets reelected, some Democrats will find their enthusiasm for impeachment rekindled — but how much sense does it make to pursue impeachment against a president who just got reelected? By that point, the American people have already decided about the seriousness of the accusations.

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