The Slatest

Beto O’Rourke, Going Nowhere in a Hurry, Ends His Presidential Campaign

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke  speaks at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and CNN presidential town hall focused on LGBTQ issues on October 10, 2019 in Los Angeles, California.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke speaks at the LGBTQ-focused town hall on Oct. 10 in Los Angeles.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressmen who kept the glossy magazine business afloat during his captivating 2018 Senate challenge to Ted Cruz, dropped out of the presidential race Friday afternoon ahead of a planned weekend in Iowa, where he was polling at about 1 percent.

“Though it is difficult to accept, it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully,” O’Rourke—who raised a ton of money in the first day of his campaign, before not raising much more money—wrote on Medium. “My service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee. Acknowledging this now is in the best interests of those in the campaign; it is in the best interests of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee; and it is in the best interests of the country.”

He has consistently ruled out the possibility of switching to the 2020 Senate race in Texas to run against Republican Sen. John Cornyn, the race that many felt he should’ve gotten into in the first place. At this point, the embarrassing flatlining of his national campaign, as well as a couple of provocative positions he staked out in the desperate last days of his presidential run, would hinder his chances anyway.

Beto! He is a nice man. And when positioned as the alternative to Ted Cruz in a state where Democrats hadn’t won a Senate seat in decades, he was a great candidate, even if he came up a few percentage points short. He was less of a force against, say, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, or Bernie Sanders, those with whom he would be competing for young voters’ affections. In the first two debates, he was slow-footed, allowing him to be slapped around by candidates, like Julián Castro, who needed to get attention by picking an argument against someone who looked half-asleep.

O’Rourke’s campaign found a second wind following the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, O’Rourke’s hometown, in early August. After some time off the trail, he returned newly energized and armed with both profanity and a nothing-to-lose spirit. He endorsed one of the most ambitious gun control policies of the primary—a mandatory buyback of assault-style firearms like AR-15s—a moment that produced his most memorable clip of the campaign in the September presidential debate. He was not rewarded with any bounce in the polls.

Eventually, though, O’Rourke’s bold, activist streak started to play like schtick. Not all of his radical positions were as personally felt as his one on guns, and instead he seemed to be simply saying “yes” to whatever was asked of him. During an LGBTQ town hall in early October, O’Rourke was asked if he thought “religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”

“Yes,” he said. His “yes,” in this case, sounded less like someone who had arrived at this position after years of deep thought or a moment of personal tragedy than the auto-response of someone whose latest branding campaign, Boldness, required a “yes” when a question was asked a certain way.

In an interview last month, when asked about whether he would run for another office this cycle, or ever, O’Rourke said that he “cannot fathom a scenario where I would run for public office again if I’m not the nominee.”

This might have sounded like a politician trying to express his commitment to the current race while leaving a little wiggle room for himself in case he changed his mind. After a few reads, though, it comes across as painfully honest. I, too, cannot fathom a scenario where Beto O’Rourke runs for public office again. Rep. Veronica Escobar is an excellent successor to his old House seat, and besides, why would he want to go back to the House? Future runs for statewide office in Texas would have ready-made attack ads awaiting him about how he wants to take guns and tax churches. He could try to resettle in another, bluer state in which to run a Senate race, like neighboring New Mexico, but “moving to New Mexico to run for Senate” would be strange, and New Mexico doesn’t need him. He could also wait another 10 years for Texas to turn bluer. But in 10 years, who is Beto O’Rourke?

He could have a stint in the next Democratic administration, assuming there is one, and then retire to be a real estate developer or something. He seems to feel—and if we know anything about Beto O’Rourke, it’s that he feels things—that if he can’t be president, though, he doesn’t want to be in electoral politics anymore. He’s relatable after all.