This morning, as Beto O’Rourke stood in front of the gorgeous and sprawling backdrop of an El Paso skyline, he sought to reframe and reset his presidential campaign in absolute terms. Less than two weeks after a gunman drove 10 hours to open fire at a Walmart in the only city that has ever really felt like home to him, Beto channeled, and, in many ways, eclipsed the qualities that he was able to distillate in his madcap, inspirational Senate campaign from 2018.
He also definitively closed the door on those calling for him to abandon his presidential bid to return home full time to seek our state’s other Senate seat. And for that, we should all be thankful.
The chatter about Beto dropping his presidential bid has been pervasive of late, sucking up the oxygen everywhere from the CNN newsroom to the pages of the Houston Chronicle. The argument, such that it is, is that nothing Democrats achieve in the presidential race in 2020 (including taking back the White House) will matter unless we take back the majority in the United States Senate.
That’s an understandable talking point and one that is backed up with a certain amount of logic and truth. It’s also total B.S., because no matter how many Senate seats Democrats win in 2020, the party won’t have a filibuster-proof majority. Even if the Dems win the chamber, Mitch McConnell, should he survive his own 2020 challenge, will still do everything he can to gum up the works and stall progress.
It also overlooks a truth that we must all confront openly, and one that Beto took on headfirst this morning: that there is no greater threat to the safety, security and future prosperity of our country than four more years of Donald Trump. I believe no 2020 Democratic candidate has made a more passionate, immediate or consequential critique of who Donald Trump is and what he stands for than Beto did this morning. He returned to form and showed a new side of his personality that some, including me, have been longing to see: a willingness to fight.
With the high school he graduated from in the distance behind him this morning and the challenges we face as a nation laid out clearly ahead, Beto didn’t shy away from taking on Trump head-on, issuing a searing indictment of his racist behavior and framing the choice our country faces in no uncertain terms.
“I am confident that if we do not wake up to this threat, then we, as a country, will die in our sleep.”
With that potent statement, O’Rourke clearly defined the existential threat our own President poses this country and managed to channel all of the anger, heartbreak, and dismay that so many have felt during this administration while also offering glimmers of hope we’re all so desperate for in these trying times.
His clarion call to bring sanity and compassion back to our politics reminded me of what the Beto Effect really meant for Texas Democrats in 2018, and perfectly encapsulated why we Texans, and we Americans, need Beto’s voice in the presidential race.
As it was for many people, 2018 was a bummer of epic proportions. I returned to Texas from a brief sojourn on a campaign in California facing the type of uncertainty that many Americans grapple with each day. In the spring of 2018, I was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer and forced to leave my job. As the year progressed, it was hard not to become increasingly disillusioned with the trajectory of our national politics and discourse. There weren’t many silver linings I could easily find.
But as the year progressed, and Beto’s campaign began to pick up steam, it produced tangible magic in the air. Sitting at a coffee shop in South Austin for a meeting, I listened to a table of people younger than I talk about how excited they were to go to the Beto office to volunteer. Democrats who had long given up hope that we could win in the state came back into the fold. Republicans and Independents concerned about our country were willing to keep an open mind and hear him out.
As I traveled around Houston in the waning days of the 2018 campaign, the candidate I worked for and I spent a lot of time trailing Beto from early-vote location to early-vote location. At each of those stops, he would come barreling out of his minivan, dive right into a scrum of supporters, and deliver an impassioned call to participate. I would watch the faces in the crowd and see the inspiration and belief that Beto drummed up inside them. Women, men, black, brown, white. Beto made them feel seen. He made them believe they belonged in our politics and that in fact our politics belonged to them.
Beto made people believe, not only in who he was and what he stood for, but that together we as Texans and Americans had the capacity and ability to recreate our country and maybe, hopefully, get back to building the more perfect union we were promised.
In the battle of good versus evil that a 2020 campaign against Trump will become, that’s what we need more than anything: We need candidates who can be their authentic selves, to fearlessly say what we stand for and why, and to be able to say what we stand against. To reclaim the American values we all hold dear, we need a candidate who can turn their anger and angst into hopeful leadership.
Joe Bowen is an Austin-based political consultant and the digital producer for The Signal. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Signal.