The Slatest

The First Epic Online Meltdown of the 2020 Democratic Primary Has Begun, and It’s About Beto O’Rourke

Beto O'Rourke, shot from below in hero/rock-star fashion with stage lights in the background.
The man, the myth, the flame war between online pundits.
Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

If you were hungry for some overwrought, ideologically driven accusations involving elections 13 months away, a li’l old restaurant called The Internet was a good place to sate your appetite Thursday!

It all started with a piece by democratic-socialism-friendly Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig about Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who came close to a long-shot Senate upset over Ted Cruz and whom some doofuses have pegged as a worthy 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. Bruenig is skeptical, writing that “I think the times both call for and allow for a left-populist candidate with uncompromising progressive principles. I don’t see that in O’Rourke.” She criticizes O’Rourke’s hesitance to endorse Medicare for all or a “Green New Deal,” concluding that she’d prefer a nominee “with sincere, well-attested antipathy toward Wall Street, oil and gas, welfare reform and war, who is willing to fight hard to win Medicare-for-all and drastically reverse our current course on climate change.”

It’s a pretty gentle critique, prefaced by praise for O’Rourke and his 2018 campaign staffers, who Bruenig compliments for building “a grass-roots army that put democracy — talking to constituents, listening to their points of view, inviting them to participate in the process not by mass mail but by name — first.”

Not exactly knives out, right? But try telling that to the online Dem faction associated with the Center for American Progress, the think tank founded by Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, whose acolytes think of themselves as defending the august tradition of practical Democratic liberalism from delusional, radical Bernie bros. Here’s CAP president Neera Tanden:

(Tanden is referring to critical pieces about O’Rourke in the leftist/socialist journals Current Affairs and Jacobin and some stuff that lefty pundit Sirota had tweeted about O’Rourke’s donors in the energy industry.)

And here’s CAP wonk Topher Spiro:

Even as the person who wrote the afore-linked, 2020-curious post about O’Rourke, I have to say that describing a few leftist critiques of his policy positions as a “concerted effort” to destroy him is pretty far-fetched, as is the idea that leftist writers particularly care whether Bernie Sanders (vis a vis any other solidly progressive candidate) is the 2020 nominee. (After Bruenig’s piece was published, Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall complained about the left’s “cultic” obsession with Sanders and its purported belief that anyone who does not have “the pure Bernaic quality of Bernie” must be destroyed; Marshall then backtracked when it was pointed out that Bruenig’s article doesn’t mention Sanders at all, let alone endorse his prospective 2020 candidacy.)

But then again, I would also say that Intercept editor Glenn Greenwald probably also took things too far by describing Tanden’s support for O’Rourke as an act of world-historic anti-Semitism against Sanders:

Wow! (Update, Dec. 7: Greenwald writes to say that he wasn’t “earnestly” suggesting Tanden was anti-Semitic bur rather “satiriz[ing] and ironically invok[ing] the Democratic establishment’s highly selective and self-serving use of identity politics and the reckless accusations of bigotry that accompany it,” specifically what he described as Tanden’s past tendency to assert “that those who opposed Hillary’s attempt to be the first female president were misogynists.”)

And even though it’s actually from a month ago, I also need to highlight this, by #resistance super-poster Leah McElrath, because no discussion of going way too far in a Beto-related tweet would be complete without it (here’s who Richard Ojeda is):

Wow! Wow.