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I’m not exactly an optimist when it comes to politics. Perhaps it’s because I spent almost 20 years running political media efforts and helming campaigns. But this year . . . well, this year is different.
It’s just not that the Democrats have gone off the deep end ideologically. After their initial reaction to Hillary’s 2016 defeat, that turn was to be expected. It’s not even that the Republicans finally found a general who would fight. We could tell that after seeing what the president did to his primary opponents in debate.
No, the thing that is surprising this year—and I say this even after having foisted many an airhead upon the unsuspecting voters of the Mid-Atlantic—is that the Democrats now offer us a candidacy so utterly and completely devoid of gravitas, or even the slightest sense of adult leadership potential, as to make it incredible that he has a credible chance at the nomination for a major national party.
Yup, we’re talking about Robert Francis O’Rourke.
True, he’s slipped in the polls to a great degree and his campaign appears to be on life support. But that it ever was taken seriously is my point. Like Stacey Abrams in Georgia, how losing statewide candidates could be considered competition to Donald Trump is beyond me. With Abrams, you can chalk it up to Democrats’ fixation on identity politics, giving her a leg up based solely on her race and her sex. However “Beto” O’Rourke, married to an heiress, is about as white as they come and, aside from his general demeanor, a male.
Though all that couldn’t get him past Ted Cruz in Texas, no matter that the celebrities of left-wing Hollywood and the marshaled forces of national liberalism fought at his side. Any non-personally obsessed candidate would have taken a bit of time off after the defeat and mulled over his next move.
But Beto loved the adulation, the press, and the adoring fans of his puppy dog mien. As such, with no discernible ideas or strong persona to set him apart from his primary competitors, he ended one campaign and swung blithely into the next.
The national media did their part and they rolled him out, with a Vanity Fair cover obviously copied from a Reagan cover, like the lead singer of a new boy band, with all the pop culture stature and seriousness of purpose of such. He was, to easily beguiled Democrats, a bit of JFK, a touch of the Gipper in his down-home appeal, and lots of Shaun Cassidy.
He could have ridden that wave quite a way across the waters. Perhaps even to viability at this point, not the to the nadir where he currently stands. Though, granted, other candidacies, Bill Clinton in 1992 comes to mind, have been given last rites and come back to victory. Beto may even still snag a veep role. At any rate, shrewdly using the media assist given to him and biding his time until the smoke cleared a tad wasn’t his preference.
He and his team went for the rookie mistake prone to personality cult candidacies: overexposure.
Then we saw a wildly gesticulating Beto at home with his wife, Beto in a dentist chair, Beto ad nauseum chronicling mundane details of his life because he assumed, given his narcissism, that we were as interested in those things as he is. Though notice something? None of those social media events had much to do with politics. It’s as if Beto himself was the product, whatever he stood for incidental to his belief in the sheer power of B-celebrity.
When he did venture out into the sphere of public discourse he forgot about some politically correct rules and let slip the mask more than once.
There was the inadvertent endorsement of hereditary rule when he told Vanity Fair, “I was born to be in it.” Then he ran afoul of working women when he told an Iowa audience his wife raises his kids, “sometimes with my help.” His youthful DUI and his dress-wearing membership in the emo band Foss did no favors to his adult image. Neither did his feigned depression in his “In and out of a funk” social media post. And no, it is doubtful he is referring to an inconsistent loyalty to “Soul Train.”
Then my favorite, as it seems to be an obligatory obeisance for certain Dems this campaign season, he apologized for being a white guy, as if it was somehow his decision, “As a white man who has had privileges that others could not depend on or take for granted, I’ve clearly had advantages over the course of my life.”
You can just picture Harris, Booker and their staffs rolling over in gales of laughter as they hear this ofay scarecrow voluntarily sacrifice his dignity on the altar of white guilt. They must deduce, and they’d be quite correct, that his narcissism is so overwhelming that he will indulge in any sort of masochism to placate the gods who would elevate him to his proper station. Certain types of white people, they must wonder, do they ever get tired of trashing themselves so they can look progressive enough to other types of white people?
But the real rot set in when another candidate joined the race. Oh sure, Beto was considered cute in a junior high school sense, as a warm and sensitive little brother about as prepossessing as a hamster. His whole shtick was predicated on being the non-toxic male in the mix. You could almost see him at home, he and his spouse braiding their hair and painting each other’s toenails. No machismo mean man him!
The only thing that could ruin the message? You guessed it. An actual gay guy.
Thus, when Pete Buttigieg got into the race, let’s put aside for the moment the South Bend, Indiana mayor’s Rhodes Scholarship and Army service, replete with his boyish charm and a husband who he would make out with in public, the lights must have burned long into the night at Beto HQ.
How to top that?!
Well, they likely mused, Beto could drop the wife and take up with a male celebrity. Hah! Not just a guy, but a Hollywood guy! But then there goes the wife’s cash. Next option.
Ummm, how about running on replacing the U.S. flag with the rainbow flag! Showing up at a campaign rally dressed as Little Bo Peep and come out as trans? OK, but what if nobody noticed the difference?
As Beto began his slide in the polls to his standing of less than 5 percent today, it probably dawned on his staff—but not on him—what’s apparent to even Democratic voters right now: no gimmick or angle is going to save this Texas empty suit from himself.
When there is no core, no center, there appears a veritable blank slate (as he was actually described in introduction at an Iowa rally last week) to post whatever fad or whimsy of the moment is popular. Sooner or later even Democrats will take notice of that void. As he goes further and further to the left to compensate for his lack of substance, they’ll notice that, too, and ignore his pretentious fakery and support a real Bolshevik like Sanders.
You have to have at least a little perceived strength, a bit of proper tone, a smattering of the right stuff to make it to the top and gain a party’s nod. Beto has none and it shows to the point it brings to mind a political corollary to Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market.
The political free market also rewards and punishes those who sell their wares. Its invisible hand is evidenced in the success or failure of poll numbers and election results at the hands of the consumers/voters.
Although it is still early, the final judgment of the 2020 political market will come knocking at Beto’s door to gauge his presidential timber, and not only will O’Rourke be found wanting, it will be discovered that there was never really anyone at home in the first place.
Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images