Back in March, when he entered the presidential race, the erstwhile poet Robert Francis O’Rourke told Vanity Fair, “Man, I’m just born to be in it.” As another, more famous poet wrote, “All things were born. Ye will come never more, for all things must die.” And today Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for president expired.
Even without that perhaps ill-advised glossy-magazine spread, the O’Rourke run was always an audacious endeavor. O’Rourke came to the campaign fresh off an unexpectedly close but still unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate against Ted Cruz in Texas. Before that, he served three terms in the U.S. House. It was a fairly skimpy résumé for a presidential contender, but O’Rourke inspired an energy that gave some veterans of Barack Obama’s campaign a sense of déjà vu.
Almost immediately, O’Rourke stood astride the Democratic field (as well as some of Iowa’s choicest countertops). He surged in the polls, trailing only Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. As it turned out, his launch was the high point for the campaign. It quickly became clear that O’Rourke didn’t have much of an articulated reason for running, and he faltered. Not every young, charismatic pol is Obama.
O’Rourke found new purpose for his campaign after a mass shooting in August in El Paso, his hometown, where Latinos were targeted. For the first time in a while, O’Rourke seemed genuinely passionate. The following day, he was asked whether Donald Trump could help. “What do you think? You know the shit he’s been saying,” O’Rourke said. “He’s been calling Mexican immigrants ‘rapists’ and ‘criminals.’ I don’t know, like, members of the press, what the fuck?” It was profane, but the moment was profane, and he had a point.
O’Rourke pivoted his campaign to gun control, promising to confiscate assault weapons if elected. The vow made some Democratic strategists (and rivals) nervous, but in any case, it was too late to make a difference to his electoral chances. His voters had mostly tuned out and drifted away. He wasn’t much of a factor in the primary debates either.