“Dad, if you run for president, I’m going to cry all day,” one of Beto O’Rourke’s children says in the first few paragraphs of the potential presidential candidate’s Vanity Fair cover story.
But it seems O’Rourke will run for president, and is likely to announce his run tomorrow.
It’s fairly easy to explain O’Rourke’s rise: he’s a handsome, tall white guy who liberals can project their longings onto, with little substance to get in the way. He’s been called the “white Obama,” which to liberals seems to mean a return to a time when they were on top, when they felt secure that the seething masses of MAGA chuds who now control the country were safely tucked away in their suburbs.
“He has an aura,” Vanity Fair writes.
Cool, but also, who cares?
O’Rourke, Vanity Fair reports, has been drinking the Kool Aid about himself.
“I got in there, and I don’t know if it’s a speech or not, but it felt amazing,” he tells Vanity Fair of a speech he gave during his failed Senate campaign. “Because every word was pulled out of me. Like, by some greater force, which was just the people there. Everything that I said, I was, like, watching myself, being like, How am I saying this stuff? Where is this coming from?”
The profile goes on to discuss O’Rourke’s daddy issues, his relationship with his wife, and his early political career.
In his first term on the El Paso city council, O’Rourke advocated for “tax abatements to spur development,” “envisioning a gentrified downtown that could attract more people like Beto O’Rourke.” At the time, there were questions about whether his father-in-law, real estate magnate Bill Sanders, may have profited from the development.
In 2011, O’Rourke did something genuinely progressive by supporting drug legalization as a solution for violence on the border, setting him up to run for Congress. But he ran that race with the help of his rich father-in-law, and won by wooing white Republicans in a heavily Latinx community.
“Race begins to play a role in there somehow,” Bob Moore, a former El Paso Times editor, told Vanity Fair. “So when people talk about Beto’s Republican connection, there’s a ‘there’ there.”
And, once he was in Congress, O’Rourke often worked with Republicans, including cosponsoring a bill with Texas Sen. John Cornyn to increase border security.
Yet O’Rourke says he admires Bernie Sanders.
“[Sanders] said [in a meeting with Hillary Clinton during the campaign] it’s not enough to remind America how bad Donald Trump is, it’s just not going to do it,” O’Rourke tells Vanity Fair. “You’ve got to give people something to be for, it cannot be who we are against.”
“I think [Sanders] was so prescient,” he continues. “That moment sticks out to me so much, because it was so dramatic. He was so hated really—it’s not too strong of a word—when he was in there, and he said the most important thing that I’d heard during that entire campaign.”
It is not until the very end of the feature that we get to some solid policy proposals, and even then, they’re a bit wobbly.
O’Rourke doesn’t say he’s in favor of Medicare for All, but rather supporting the Affordable Care Act, making “Medicare part of the health-care marketplace” and eventually providing “health care for all,” whatever that means. He supports the idea of a Green New Deal, saying it “captures your imagination,” he doesn’t necessarily think it’s possible. He discusses a path to citizenship for Dreamers, ending the war on drugs, and raising the cap on immigrant work visas.
He also says he’s a capitalist.
“The ingenuity and innovation that you only find in America and in capitalist systems, the ability to harness the power of the market,” O’Rourke says, “it’s hard to argue against pricing carbon and allowing the market to respond to that.”
The feature certainly sets O’Rourke up as the relatable underdog hero we’re expected to root for, despite his lack of political experience and discernible policies.
But the real danger for O’Rourke is that rather than a white Obama, he’s a white Cory Booker—an overeager, middle of the road Democrat who wants to run a campaign based on positivity, love, and nebulous ideas about shared American values. Without something more tangible for voters to cling on to, that kind of charisma can get you only so far.
But perhaps we’re wrong, and a nice smile really is all you need to win the American presidency. Either way, it seems we’re about to find out.
Update, 10:30 p.m.: