Beto O’Rourke Weighs Presidential Campaign From an Unusual Position: Front-Runner

“His fundamental strength is authenticity,” said David Axelrod, the strategist for former President Obama’s campaigns.

.. “If he ran for president, it would be much different,” said Steve Ortega, a longtime O’Rourke friend who in 2005 was elected with him to the El Paso City Council. “He’s not going to take anyone by surprise. He’s no longer the insurgent. He’s one of the front-runners. It’s a different deal.”

.. Mr. O’Rourke’s longtime critics in El Paso say he’s created an image that doesn’t comport with reality. “He is a master of crafting a political narrative,” said David Dorado Romo, an El Paso historian who has long clashed with Mr. O’Rourke on local development issues. “What he says and what he does are two very different things.”

Still, despite the enthusiasm for him in Democratic circles, Mr. O’Rourke has never been a strict party loyalist.

.. O’Rourke spokesman Chris Evans said the former congressman’s penchant for holding multiple town hall-style events each day required him to be fluent on any issue a voter would ask about and would translate to a national contest. “That style opens you up to having to know about all the issues and where you stand and what your point of view is on them,” Mr. Evans said.
.. “I’m not an expert in Democrat politics but I can tell you he has what they want,” said Jeff Roe, Mr. Cruz’s GOP campaign manager in the 2018 Senate race. “He’s the anti-Trump.”

A Bruised Trump Faces Uncertain 2020 Prospects. His Team Fears a Primary Fight.

Several prominent Trump antagonists are actively urging other Republicans to take on the president, and a popular governor, Larry Hogan of Maryland, has indicated he is newly open to their entreaties.

.. Privately, some of Mr. Trump’s 2016 aides have said they are pessimistic about his path to 270 electoral votes after his party’s midterm defeats in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. An Associated Press poll on Wednesday showed that Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating had fallen to 34 percent, with his support among Republicans dipping below 80 percent — a startling turn for a president who strives for total control of the G.O.P., and has usually achieved it.

..An Associated Press poll on Wednesday showed that Mr. Trump’s overall approval rating had fallen to 34 percent, with his support among Republicans dipping below 80 percent — a startling turn for a president who strives for total control of the G.O.P., and has usually achieved it.

.. The Mueller investigation looms as another destabilizing force for the president. David Kochel, a Republican strategist based in Iowa who is opposed to Mr. Trump, said the special counsel’s eventual report could determine whether Mr. Trump is vulnerable in a primary.

“That will be a focusing mechanism for the party,” Mr. Kochel said.

.. Mr. Trump captured the presidency with a largely improvisational candidacy, guided by his own instincts for personal combat and cultural division, and lacking the strategic discipline of most presidential campaigns.

.. But even among his own political lieutenants, there is a general recognition that Mr. Trump currently lacks anything resembling a positive message.

.. Mr. Trump is especially fixated on two well-known Democrats, speaking frequently about Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president whom Mr. Trump regards as his most dangerous potential opponent, and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Some of his advisers are more preoccupied with two other would-be challengers, who would offer a starker generational contrast with the 72-year-old president: Senator Kamala Harris of California and Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas Senate candidate.

.. Now a top aide on Mr. Trump’s campaign, Mr. Stepien and his deputies have been consulting party leaders about shutting off avenues to a challenge and ensuring that states cannot put forward “favorite son” candidates to contest the president’s renomination.

.. Mr. Trump has also dedicated a team of aides to guaranteeing that only political loyalists are elected to serve as delegates to the convention. To that end, Mr. Stepien dispatched some of his staff members this month to see that their preferred candidate remained in charge of the Maine Republican Party.

..Mr. Hogan spoke briefly with William Kristol, an implacable Trump critic in the conservative press, who argued that the president is weaker than widely understood

.. In addition to Mr. Hogan, William F. Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, is weighing a challenge to Mr. Trump as a small-government moderate, people who have spoken with him said. Mr. Weld, 73, who was the Libertarian Party’s vice-presidential nominee in 2016, has discussed either opposing Mr. Trump in the Republican primaries or seeking the Libertarian presidential nomination.

.. Other Republicans known to be entertaining campaigns against Mr. Trump include John R. Kasich, the former governor of Ohio, who ran in 2016; Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska; and Jeff Flake, the former senator from Arizona. But Mr. Sasse is said to have grown uneasy about the idea, and Mr. Kasich and Mr. Flake are pursuing opportunities in television.

.. Bruce Berke, a Republican strategist in New Hampshire aligned with Mr. Kasich, said he currently saw Mr. Trump as unassailable in a G.O.P. primary.

“A primary challenge in 2020, as of today, would be futile for anyone,” Mr. Berke said.

Still, Republican donors will want to know just how damaged the president may be by the end of this year before they truly commit to a challenge.

A Democratic Narrative Misses the Reality of 2018

As Democrats move from success in the 2018 midterms to the early stages of picking a 2020 presidential candidate, a narrative is taking root. It holds that the key Democratic voter today is young, liberal and rebellious—in short, a version of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old activist who became the youngest congresswoman ever and who appears to be pushing the party to the left.

There is one problem with this narrative. It largely misses the story of the voters who actually delivered success to Democrats last year—and who may determine the outcome of the next presidential race.

It’s certainly true that there was a lot of energy among young, liberal Democrats in 2018, and that figures to be true again in the new presidential cycle.

Yet the Democratic electorate in 2018—the one that swung House seats and governor’s offices from Republican to Democratic—was neither as young nor as liberal as popularly imagined. AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 self-identified 2018 midterm voters, found that just 15% of those who voted Democratic last November were aged 18 through 29. The largest contingent of Democratic voters—36%—actually were ages 45 through 64.

All told, 60% of Democratic voters were aged 45 or older.

In ideological terms, there is no doubt that the party is moving to the left. An increasing share of Democrats are identifying themselves as liberal. Yet that movement also can be overstated. While half of Democratic voters last year identified themselves as liberal, 48% called themselves moderate or conservative. And moderates outnumbered “very liberal” Democratic voters by two to one.

The attention may be focused on the left, but the actual energy and votes came from the mainstream and the center,” says Jim Kessler, executive vice president for policy at Third Way, an organization that supports moderate Democrats.

As has been widely noted, the key voters in 2018 were white suburban women, who showed up in large numbers to vent their anger at President Trump by voting Democratic. Yet many of these suburban women weren’t fired-up liberals, but rather centrists who previously supported moderate Republicans in their districts.

Their switch is why many of those moderate Republicans washed out to sea; their fate was sealed more by moderate women rising up to vote Democratic than because of a left-wing insurrection. Indeed, candidates endorsed by the moderate New Democrat coalition flipped 33 of the 42 House seats that went from Republican to Democrat.

Geographically, the keys to Democrats’ success came not in the party’s coastal enclaves—such as Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s district, which was held by Democrats long before she arrived—but rather in the industrial upper Midwest swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. All three states were won by Mr. Trump in 2016, but Democrats won the popular House vote in those states last fall. Democrats also nominated moderates for governor in all three states—and all three won, by a margin of 1.3 million votes.

This reality is important for Democrats as candidates begin drifting onto the 2020 presidential battlefield. The prevailing narrative suggests not only that the advantage goes to a fresh face who excites the party’s young progressives—think former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas or Sen. Kamala Harris of California—but that such a choice has the best chance of success against Mr. Trump.

And maybe that’s the case. But consider the alternative, suggested by the reality of the midterm election results: The votes that will spell the difference for Democrats lie not on the left and on the coasts, but in the center and in the industrial Midwest.

That’s where Mr. Biden enters the picture. Perhaps the 76-year-old former vice president is too old. He certainly doesn’t meet the desire for “new blood” in politics cited last week by former President Obama.

On the other hand, if the Democrats’ key votes in 2020 will lie among centrists in the industrial Midwest, the more moderate profile of the favorite son of Scranton, Pa., will be an attractive one. Moreover, if voters generally are looking for somebody who knows how to get things done rather than simply create controversy, the guy who once prevented a government shutdown by cutting a big budget deal with Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell may have some appeal.

It’s too early to know, of course—but there is more than one narrative at work for Democrats.

Middle-Class Shame Will Decide Where America Is Headed

Who can appeal to the people who feel the most like they’ve gotten a raw deal?

.. Beto O’Rourke is one possible Democratic candidate for 2020 who seems to understand the power of talking to people who think they’ve gotten a raw deal.
Over the past few years, I have spoken to hundreds of people, like Ms. Womack, who define themselves as middle class but are seriously economically challenged. In their lives, an illness could mean bankruptcy. I talked to many people who had college degrees, were convinced they were on the right path, yet were shaken by their endless debt — from the cost of their graduate degrees, caring for an elderly parent or paying for a child’s medication.

Sometimes their professions had contracted, resulting in a loss of jobs. Sometimes it was because their work had become irregular and they had no union to negotiate for them. Health care and education cost far more than they once did and wages were barely inching up. As a result, they had personal pain — and ire — that many politicians didn’t take seriously enough.

After all, what I have called the “middle precariat” vote — or what could be called the anxiety vote — gave us this president, and now it has also given us a Democratic House. It is a powerful force.

Any Democrat who wants to win the White House in 2020 is going to need to harness the power of these voters. Indeed, the race has very much started, including the recent announcement of a presidential campaign exploratory committee by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has already started to emphasize how the middle class is “hollowed out.”

One of the first challenges is getting people to admit they are struggling financially, and to talk publicly about it. This can be hard for members of the middle class, a group that has a real sense of stigma about financial floundering. They are hobbled by a long-held obsession with privacy and don’t always acknowledge what is troubling them, according to research by Caitlin Zaloom, an anthropologist at New York University.

The second — and most basic — way of addressing the anxious middle-class vote is by acknowledging people’s suffering. At rallies, ask people with student or medical debt to raise their hands, so that they don’t quietly carry it with them for their lives, afraid to speak because they don’t want to admit they need help.

Candidates and politicians should follow the example of New York’s new Democratic congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who acknowledged that she wouldn’t be able to pay the costly rent for a Washington apartment until her government paychecks start coming in. They should openly discuss the tendency of many people to blame themselves for their professional and financial distress. Donald Trump jumped on this discomfort in 2016, after all, and made it part of his rhetoric, even though, of course, he had no intention of changing much.

“They have imbibed this idea that your economic well-being is traceable principally to your own efforts,” Ms. Shenker-Osorio said.

As a result, what the electorate doesn’t need to hear are Horatio Alger stories of how candidates worked their way up from humble origins, with the implied moral that anyone can make it in America with enough hard work. These kinds of tales can insidiously lead middle-class people today to blame themselves more for not flourishing.

Instead, the new Congress and candidates of the future should tell voters that it’s O.K. to be mad about being in debt, that this is a savage society we now live in. They could talk about their own experience of debt, be it student or medical, or the debt of someone in their family. (What makes this a bit harder is how unrelatable, and depressing, the wealth of our Congress still is: in 2015, it was majority millionaire.)

To win the anxious middle-class vote, politicians must offer real solutions for the challenges in the lives of these voters, especially on health care and education. One example of this is the scholarship program that Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York put in place: 940,000 middle-class families and individuals making up to $125,000 per year will qualify to attend tuition-free at colleges in the New York State and New York City public university systems. Though not perfect, it’s a step in the right direction.

It is important to get these voters beyond the shame of debt, perhaps by allowing student debtors to be able to declare bankruptcy related to student loans, something that is nearly impossible to do now, and obtain debt forgiveness.

An actual “Medicare for all” proposal would get at the heart of what is a real challenge for many. Michèle Lamont, a sociologist at Harvard who specializes in culture and inequality, told me that her work found that when candidates promote a policy like Medicare for all, even if it doesn’t come to fruition they are signaling that they understand voters’ need for solidarity and give voice to their hopes and difficulties by making them visible.

A few possible Democratic candidates for the 2020 nomination, from Bernie Sanders to Beto O’Rourke, seem to understand this possibility, and have been attempting to redirect Americans’ anger toward fighting for the things they need, like reasonably priced education and health care. Mr. Trump, no doubt, will continue to mine this territory in a re-election campaign, despite his role in fueling our neglect to begin with.

Middle-class and poor voters have more in common with one another today than they do with the economic ultra-elite. And if they can continue to organize into coalitions, they could be truly powerful forces. Maybe they’d take to the streets most weeks and shut down our cities on a more regular basis, like they do in France.

Then again, maybe the people we elect can express our pain for us instead, so we wouldn’t have to.

Beto O’Rourke May Benefit From an Unlikely Support Group: White Evangelical Women

In the Senate race, one of the most unexpectedly tight in the nation, any small shift among evangelical voters — long a stable base for Republicans — could be a significant loss for Mr. Cruz, who, like President Trump, has made white evangelicals the bulwark of his support.

To Democrats nationwide, who have largely written off white evangelical voters, it also sends a signal — not just for the midterms but also for the 2020 presidential campaign — that there are female, religious voters who are open to some of their party’s candidates.

.. The women, who are all in their 30s, described Mr. O’Rourke as providing a stark moral contrast to Mr. Trump, whose policies and behavior they see as fundamentally anti-Christian, especially separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, banning many Muslim refugees and disrespecting women.

“I care as much about babies at the border as I do about babies in the womb,” said Tess Clarke

.. confessing that she was “mortified” at how she used to vote, because she had only considered abortion policy. “We’ve been asleep. Now, we’ve woke up.”

.. One in three Texans is evangelical

.. 85 percent of white evangelical voters in Texas supported Mr. Trump in 2016

.. showing Mr. Cruz leading Mr. O’Rourke 87 percent to 11 percent among evangelical activist voters.

.. “How does my vote represent the little girl that I used to be?” she said. “The Republicans used to be the party of family, and morals and values, and now they are not.”

 

Beto O’Rourke gets more attention than any other 2018 candidate. Will it translate to votes?

 He’s certainly the only politician to ever be interviewed by GQ, Town & Country, Politico and Ethan Hawke.

His is a candidacy born of the Trump era, testing whether the left can have an equal and opposite reaction to the 2016 presidential election, and whether the best way to achieve that goal is to figure out the memeing of life.

.. O’Rourke is betting that by broadcasting himself on a live stream while campaigning in places he isn’t supposed to show up and saying things he isn’t supposed to say, he can encourage new voters to go to the polls, and even win over some Republicans who may not agree with him on all issues.

“I’m really surprised by how well Trump was able to leverage his popularity and the fact that everybody did know him, and there was this thing they liked about him,” O’Rourke said in an interview.

.. O’Rourke has become the kind of reality-show character that thousands of people watch eat a hamburger (46,000 Facebook views), skateboard through a parking lot (161,000 views), do his laundry (44,000 views) or answer questions at his town halls about, for example, NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. (That one has been seen by tens of millions.)

.. Being on all the time — on TV, on for interviews, on live stream in the car — has helped make him famous. But can it make him a senator?

.. O’Rourke’s campaign is a throwback with a modern twist. He’s driving a pickup truck to every county. He’s knocking on thousands of doors and reciting the same stump speech thousands of times. He’s John McCain on the “Straight Talk Express” circa 2000, only now anyone watching O’Rourke’s live stream can come along for the ride.

.. The sophisticated candidate, while analyzing his own on-the-air technique as carefully as a golf pro studies his swing, should still state frequently that there is no place for . . . ‘public relations gimmicks,’ ”

.. he knew his low name recognition presented a challenge. But it also came with the opportunity to introduce himself however he wanted. By bringing the live stream into the equation, he hoped voters might see a person — a person who burps, swears, listens to music and has a family — and not just a politician.

.. It’s a gimmick but one that does come with some moral high ground: he’s able to say honestly that he doesn’t pal around with admen and has restricted access to political hired guns. And by not accepting money from political action committees or special interests, he can say he’s not being bought off. For years, O’Rourke wasn’t the type of candidate who could get billionaires to throw money his way, so why not, in his words, “turn a necessity into a virtue?”

.. like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) used to do, he brags onstage about his small-dollar donations, “33 bucks” to Sanders’s oft-repeated “27 dollars.”

.. He then tried to flee the scene before being arrested.

Ultimately, the charges were dismissed, a fact O’Rourke says probably had a lot to do with him being white.

.. Take his most viral moment of the campaign so far: his support for NFL players who kneel during the national anthem. “Reasonable people can disagree” on the issue, he said in a town hall, but he personally finds the peaceful protests aiming to “point out that black men, unarmed, black teenagers, unarmed, and black children, unarmed, are being killed at a frightening level right now” to be in line with the nonviolent movement led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis and Rosa Parks, and in that way “can think of nothing more American.”

..  it also gives ammunition for one of his opponents’ favorite attacks: that O’Rourke is an out-of-touch liberal, more Hollywood than Houston (“Most Texans stand for the flag, but Hollywood liberals are so excited that Beto is siding with NFL players protesting the national anthem that Kevin Bacon just retweeted it,” Cruz tweeted. “That means all of us can now win Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon!”). And as for the NFL video? Well, Cruz made a rough cut of it and has started showing that at his own rallies as a way to rile up his base.

.. It can be easy, then, to imagine how Cruz will take advantage of O’Rourke’s live stream. His team has already pieced together a 30-second video of O’Rourke leting curse words fly on the trail. They could highlight every time he doesn’t know the answer to a question at a town hall to paint him as unprepared, or, as they’ve done already, use the NFL video to say he doesn’t support veterans. Tracking your opponent has long been part of political tradecraft, and in this case, O’Rourke could be broadcasting his own opposition research.

.. “He interviewed me that whole time, and all he used was that f—ing line about dead armadillos?”

.. sometimes he’ll talk for 45 minutes, and the takeaway will be a quote about roadkill, much to his annoyance.