Welcome to our recurring series “Who The Fuck Are All These Fucks?” in which we profile, in brief, each of the 2020 candidates for president. This series is not meant to be exhaustive, and you’re encouraged to look into each candidate on your own.
NAME: Robert Francis O’Rourke
CURRENT JOB: Drifter
PREVIOUS JOB: Congressman
WHY DON’T WE CALL HIM “BOBBY O’ROURKE”?: His grandfather was Bobby O’Rourke and they lived in El Paso where “Beto” was a pretty common nickname for Roberts. Er – well, Robertos, anyway.
Robert O’Rourke was born in El Paso, Texas, in 1972. He’s Irish, if that wasn’t clear from the name “Robert Francis O’Rourke” and grew up in a political family; his step-grandfather, Fred Korth, was Secretary of the Navy during the Kennedy administration.
O’Rourke spent his childhood and young adult life being almost exactly the teenage dirtbag from that one Wheatus song. He joined a hacktivist collective, broke into a mechanical plant at the University of Texas at El Paso, and formed a punk band which had some middling success in the early 1990s underground. He was in a car accident while intoxicated and completed a court-mandated DWI program. This is basically all standard 90s teenage dirtbag stuff.
Where it branches a bit is that, after graduating from college (Columbia, with a degree in English lit, still not deviating too much from the script), O’Rourke came back to El Paso and started an Internet company. Okay, hold on, that’s still aggressively 90s.
Where it branches a bit is that, while working at his Internet company, he published an alternative newspaper that no that’s still very 90s
Where it branches a bit is that, uh, hmm.
In 2005, O’Rourke was elected to the El Paso City Council. His platform was pretty predictable: gentrification. That was all the rage back in 2005, you see. He backed a plan that would have incentivized development in a Hispanic neighborhood, something its residents feared would price them out of their community and replace its authenticity with the sort of McMain Street feeling of Anywhere, U.S.A. Ultimately, the plan failed.
In 2012, O’Rourke announced his candidate for Texas’s 16th congressional district. O’Rourke mounted a primary challenge against a sitting representative, Silvestre Reyes, winning the primary narrowly. His victory meant that the district, a Hispanic-majority district, would no longer be part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
This is a kind of odd facet of O’Rourke’s life. He is, essentially, a minority in a Hispanic-majority area. His nickname, “Beto”, is a shortening of Roberto and a common nickname for Roberts in the area (it was given to him by his parents, emulating their neighbors); he speaks Spanish fluently and was careful to represent the interests of his district in Congress. In 2013, he introduced legislation that would require US Customs and Border Protection to investigate civil rights violations by its officers.
He did not run for re-election in 2016, fueling speculation that he may be mounting a campaign against Ted Cruz in 2018. He did exactly that, winning the Democratic primary and facing Cruz in a tight election. He earned a series of endorsements from media that he previously backed Cruz.
In the end, Cruz won 50.9-48.3 with a Libertarian scooping up the extra. It was Cruz’s worst showing and the best showing for a Democrat in a statewide race in 18 years.
O’Rourke raised a titanic $70 million over the course of the campaign. In the third quarter alone, he brought in over $38 million, the most ever raised in a Senate election. But the question that kept coming up again and again was do people like O’Rourke or do they dislike Cruz?
Let’s talk about O’Rourke’s political views. He’s been described as progressive, moderate, centrist, socialist, conservative, and anarchist. Some of those are possible. Most of them are not.
We can get some standard stuff out of the way. O’Rourke is a Democrat: no private prisons, yes legalize marijuana, no mandatory minimums, yes global warming is bad and we should do something about it.
He supports improving the health care system but has repeatedly disparaged ideas like Medicare for All. He supports doing something about climate change but the closest he’s come to supporting the Green New Deal is an acknowledgement that he hasn’t “seen anything better” than the plan.
This puts him in the category of “Traditional Democrats” or what I want to start calling Obamden Democrats: the system will work if we make improvements, but too much change at once will bring down the house. There’s a sensibility to that argument (even if it is annoying, particularly to leftists who want to see immediate revolutionary change) and there’s a reason that candidates like Kamala Harris and John Hickenlooper are proponents of the slow-change philosophy.
It puts him in contrast to the “Social Democrats” or what I want to start calling Social Democrats because that’s what they’re called. These candidates – Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are the obvious ones here but I’m going to argue Jay Inslee is closer to this side than the Obamdens – want a stronger social net, more regulatory oversight of the economy, and greater emphasis on social and environmental justice.
O’Rourke, then, needs to appeal to the Obamdens, many of whom are clamoring for Joe “I’m Running But I Won’t Announce Yet Because Then The Rules For Financial Disclosure Change” Biden to get on with it already. But he might also benefit from appealing to the Social Democrats and he’s done a little bit of that with his positions on the border wall (no) and the death penalty (also no).