Beto O'Rourke's Presidential Campaign Is Going To Wear Us Out

Beto O'Rourke held court at Four Corners Brewery in Dallas in July 2018.
Beto O'Rourke held court at Four Corners Brewery in Dallas in July 2018. Melissa Hennings
Whatever one wants to call the thing that's going on in presidential politics right now — the money primary, the silly season or the greatest trick Iowa and New Hampshire ever pulled — Texas finds itself squarely in the thick of things, apparently for the long haul. Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and ex-U.S. housing secretary, has given every indication that he plans to take a shot at the 2020 nomination. In most years, Castro's anticipated run would be all Texas political junkies had to look forward to as the presidential race heated up. This isn't most years.

Thanks to his near miss against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in November and a load of fawning national media coverage, Beto O'Rourke, a largely unknown U.S. representative from El Paso as recently as two years ago, now has people acting like he is a serious contender for the nation's top job.

Tuesday, a straw poll of members by the progressive advocacy group MoveOn.org showed O'Rourke leading the field of potential Democratic contenders, with 15.6 percent of respondents saying they supported his candidacy. Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren rounded out MoveOn's top five. Castro came in 17th, with just 0.48 percent support.

O'Rourke's strong showing comes despite the fact that he's not even in the race — last month during a town hall in El Paso he only went so far as to say he isn't ruling it out  — and that he's been the subject of a particularly vicious internecine fight on the left over the last week or so. The fight over O'Rourke has become the latest stand-in for progressives' forever war: the 2016 primary fight between Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Everybody's favorite Whataburger-eating, f-bomb dropping, skateboard riding, soon-to-be-former congressman has been repeatedly flogged this month by the likes of socialist magazine Jacobin, Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig and lefty journalist David Sirota for not being progressive enough, whether it's because he's taken donations from individuals who work in the oil and gas industry — this is Texas, it happens — or hasn't unequivocally supported Medicare for all or another single-payer healthcare proposal.

Despite being 13 months out from the 2020 Iowa caucuses, many Sanders supporters from 2016 are convinced that establishment Democrats are lining up behind O'Rourke this cycle — still a losing Senate candidate who only served three terms in the House — just as they did behind Clinton two years ago. O'Rourke is almost certainly going to run for president. As Rice University political soothsayer Mark Jones told us last month, there's just no real reason for him not to. That means the fight over whether he is, as Cruz believes, a dyed-in-the-wool socialist or, as the online left seems to believe, a Clintonion centrist who will set the country back a couple of decades, is just beginning. Count your lucky stars, Texas, you've got a front-row seat.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young