It’s not easy to say because I know how difficult it was for O’Rourke to reach the decision to run for the presidency in the first place.
But Beto must return to Texas and challenge Republican incumbent John Cornyn for his vulnerable Senate seat in 2020.
I have two reasons for this — one of which is practical and political while the other is admittedly emotional and human.
A POLITICAL REALITY
When O’Rourke entered the race on March 14, he found himself in an almost impossible position.
The 2016 Democratic primaries featured Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and two other dudes who, by all accounts, either evaporated into thin air or went back to their jobs as [stock photo that comes with frame].
The extreme polarities between the two main contenders for the Democratic nomination gave voters a clear decision to make as well as time to make it.
Had Beto’s Senate battle with Ted Cruz taken place four years earlier, he would have provided a happy medium between the unlikeable Clinton and the progressive Sanders and almost certainly been Trump’s opponent in 2016.
But in 2020, the Democratic contenders for the presidency is a case study of both overwhelming quantity and quality.
For voters who liked Bernie but worried about his age and so-called far-left proposals, there’s now a gulf of candidates who cover the middle-ground between Sanders and 2016 Hillary — Kamala Harris (CA), Cory Booker (NJ), Elizabeth Warren (MA), Pete Buttigieg (IND), Amy Klobuchar (MN), and, of course, Biden.
Beto’s typical demographics are being eaten away at by Biden, the popular former vice president, Buttigieg, the young mayor of South Bend, Indiana and a gay veteran, and Julian Castro, the former HUD Secretary under President Obama and the former mayor of San Antonio, Texas.
In a race where race, gender, and ethnicity have gone front and center, O’Rourke is simply surrounded by candidates who largely share his social and political beliefs, but also carry factors beyond his control which eat away at the crowds he’d usually carry in a one-on-on race.
At this stage, entering the third Democratic debates on Sept. 12 and 13, O’Rourke is finding himself as a likeable and popular candidate who isn’t performing terribly well in the polls (polling at 2.6% as per FiveThirtyEight’s weighted average of national polling data on August 7) or in the debates, where non-contenders such as New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and former HUD Secretary Castro have landed shots against O’Rourke.
It’s still relatively early and O’Rourke could see a boost with next month’s debate being held in Houston, where he is endlessly popular, but the writing is on the wall for Beto — there will very likely be no presidential victory in 2020.
It would be a savvy move and devastating reality for Cornyn to wake up in a few weeks’ time and find that he’s suddenly racing against the most popular Democrat to come out of Texas since Lyndon Johnson.
Plus, O’Rourke bowing out of the race for the presidency would allow him to refocus his donations towards a Senatorial run. He’d be well ahead of Cornyn as well as any other Democratic challengers right out of the gate.
HUMAN DECENCY FIRST
In the wake of last week’s mass shooting in El Paso, O’Rourke left the campaign trail and returned home where he became the city’s voice and consoler-in-chief.
There has been no mention of O’Rourke’s presidential aspirations, campaign plans, or polling data since the shooting occured. Instead, O’Rourke and his family have hit the streets and attempted to soothe the suffering of his former constituents.
It’s the act of a man who needs to be in Texas.
The same guy who drove minivans across our gargantuan state and visited residents in all 254 counties, whether they liked him or not, now must return and help continue the state’s push from reliably red to purple; perhaps even to blue.
O’Rourke’s 2018 loss still propelled other Democratic candidates throughout Texas to victories in their own races that night, creating a network of officeholders who would be of great help in assuring a Cornyn defeat.
A senatorial victory in Texas, of all places, in 2020 for O’Rourke would mute the disappointment of his presidential race and give Texas a representative who might actually do something to help this country out of its political logjam.
Seeing O’Rourke in El Paso this past week has reminded me of the caliber of person he is.
Throughout the first two debates, I’d often look at Beto and see someone completely out of his element. Sharing the stage with nine other candidates of varying levels of knowledge and qualifications, Beto quite often looked uncomfortable and unsure of how to operate in a format that only allows a certain amount of time to answer complex questions or loud outbursts.
But in Texas, O’Rourke looks at ease around hundreds and thousands of people. He stays late into the night with people, listening to their stories, answering their questions, and attempting to quell their anxieties.
When he was attempting to decide whether or not to run for president, O’Rourke didn’t care that other high-profile candidates were declaring in droves, increasing the odds that his early heat from the 2018 race could be all-but-extinguished by the time he did enter, which it was.
He traveled the country in a rental car, documenting his travels and his thoughts as he openly pondered whether he wanted to put himself, and his family, through the rigors of a presidential campaign, not to mention the permanent changes to their lives if he managed to win.
It was the kind of self-awareness that, believe it or not, most voting Americans wish their chosen politicians had. The kind of character that accepts power, but doesn’t lust for it. The kind of person who is never sure, but is always trying.
But this is America, and power is synonymous with us. We hate when politicians abuse power, but we want them to basically cut throats to obtain it through our precious votes.
We forget often that those who lust for power are seldom the ones who should have it.
I expect that we will continue to fail in perpetuity in remembering that when it counts.
But as the election season roars on, we need candidates to be better and smarter.
Not every candidate can win this nomination. Only one can do that, and it’s not going to be a guy sandwiched between like-minded, higher-profile candidates while polling at 2.6%.
Beto O’Rourke may very well be President of the United States some day; I’d certainly love to see it, but for now, his original aspiration for the Senate would give him the experience he needs at the government’s highest elected level that isn’t president.
He’ll be able to sharpen his skills, legislatively and diplomatically. He’ll also be able to influence meaningful legislation on climate change, gun control, and immigration reform and give the American voting public the knowledge of him that it needs to decide whether he is, in fact, a future president.
We need the best of us in office. That includes Beto.
The reality of this race will hit sooner or later, I just hope he makes the right decision when it does.