The incredible lightness of Robert Francis ‘Beto’ O’Rourke

Mark Whittington
Apr 23 · 3 min read

The news that the presidential campaign of Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke has lost a couple of senior staffers has buttressed the idea that the young former congressman has peaked too soon and will, in the fullness of time, be among the also-rans. This assessment contrasts to the one that started during O’Rourke’s vigorous but unsuccessful attempt to take Ted Cruz’s senate seat in Texas, the one that crowned him the future of the Democratic Party.

Members of the media swooned over O’Rourke’s good looks and his passing resemblance to Bobby Kennedy. His tendency to drop F-bombs on the stump and to perform stunts like skateboarding on the stage was attributed to authenticity. O’Rourke failed in the 2018 midterms, but he came closer than many expected to toppling Ted Cruz, a giant of Texas politics.

For some reason, being defeated in a senate election proved to be a stepping stone for O’Rourke running for the presidency. He had a promising start, taking in about $6 million by the day he announced and addressing a respectable crowd in his home town of El Paso. His status as third in the polls, behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, was not seen as a major impediment. If people decided that Bernie and Biden were too old to be president, Beto was positioned neatly to take front-runner status.

However, something has happened in the interim. The crowds that turned out to hear O’Rourke have diminished somewhat. The former congressman seems to be more on a journey of self-discovery than on an actual campaign. The media largely abandoned him for a new flavor of the month. The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, named Pete Buttigieg, who checks off the LGBT and military veteran boxes, quite cleverly picked a fight with Vice President Mike Pence, a former governor of Indiana.

What happened to O’Rourke? The simple answer is that there was never any there, there. O’Rourke has proven to be an empty suit, someone who had an undistinguished career in Congress and an unedifying criminal record that included a DUI and a burglary incident. While Beto served as a moderate, he has run as a looney lefty, urging that the border fences be taken down and anyone who wants to move to America enter unimpeded. His antics with the skateboard seem juvenile, more appropriate to a teenager than to a man in his 40s who wants access to the nuclear codes. His private-sector success stems solely from the fact that he married his money. O’Rourke was once in a punk band, not exactly a resume enhancer for the presidency.

The main off-putting thing about O’Rourke has been the name he has chosen to be called by. He claimed that “Beto” is a childhood nickname. It is also a name that suggests its bearer is Hispanic. However, Robert Francis O’Rourke is not Hispanic, but an Irishman through and through. The gambit is understandable. More Hispanic voters than the Irish kind live in Texas. However, the attempt at cross-ethnic identification suggests a phoniness that is on par with Sen. Elizabeth Warner’s claim to be a Native American.

Mind, O’Rourke is not out of the race yet. Indeed, he has every incentive to hang on at least through Iowa and New Hampshire. Fortune can change several times in the months to come. He could also hope to do well enough to be a vice presidential running mate.

But Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke is not likely to be president. The best he can hope for is to parley his current run into something else, such as becoming a radio talk show or a paid contributor for MSNBC. Then he can snipe at his betters all he wants and get paid handsomely for it. Great work, if you can get it.