O’Rourke: The second Obama, or a flash in the pan?

Given the advancing years of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, there’s a good chance that a younger “dark horse” will emerge from the wide Democratic field to win the 2020 nomination, said Brad Bannon in TheHill.com. So “why not Beto O’Rourke?” The 46-year-old former congressman with “charisma to burn” this week announced his candidacy, and within 24 hours had collected a startling $6.1 million in online donations. That beats even Bernie Sanders’ $5.9 million, and proves that the groundswell of donations and enthusiasm that nearly swept O’Rourke into the Senate last year from GOP-held Texas was about more than the public’s dislike of the incumbent Ted Cruz. The naysayers say O’Rourke has “no reason” to run for president, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, claiming that he’s all charisma and no substance. But being an “effective, telegenic communicator” is a “good reason to run for the presidency” in this media-driven age. What Democrats most need in a candidate are the political skills to beat Donald Trump, and O’Rourke is clearly “an inspirational campaigner” with an intuitive gift for exciting voters.

Perhaps O’Rourke can win the nomination “by force of personality alone,” said Josh Voorhees in Slate.com, but he’s been curiously vague about his policy proposals. The Democrats have a deep, diverse field of young, charismatic candidates to choose from this cycle, from Kamala Harris to Pete Buttigieg. If they’re “in the market for soaring rhetoric about bridging the partisan divide, they can get that from Joe Biden, Cory Booker, or Amy Klobuchar,” each of whom has a track record of putting those platitudes into action. O’Rourke’s optimistic message has his supporters comparing him to Barack Obama, said Alex Shephard in The New Republic, but O’Rourke has “all of Obama’s self-assurance with none of his intellectual fortitude, inspirational biography, or oratory power.” In their place, O’Rourke has substituted “mushy centrism” and supposedly cool Gen X stunts like skateboarding across a stage and posting a video of his dental cleaning.

“Dear God, is he ripe for the mocking,” said Matt Welch in Reason.com. Asked by Vanity Fair why he’d run for president, O’Rourke—whose mother once gave him a shopping center—gushed, “Man, I’m just born to be in it,” and described how when giving speeches he just lets the words get “pulled out of me…like by some greater force.” O’Rourke, to be blunt, is a “weirdo,” said Kyle Smith in NationalReview.com. From his wildly gesticulating hands to his decision to go by the Hispanic nickname “Beto” when his parents named him “Robert” to his dilettantish résumé of failed stints as punk musician, fiction writer, and tech entrepreneur, O’Rourke seems less like a future president than a “brainless rich kid” still on a “lonely quest to find himself.”

O’Rourke could still be Donald Trump’s “worst nightmare,” said Jonathan Last in TheBulwark.com. The historically unpopular president’s only hope for re-election is for the Democrats to pick a nominee who is “either a radical leftist, deeply unlikable, or both.” And the moderate O’Rourke—who is already distancing himself from progressive policies such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal—is neither. Biden might be a safer choice for Democrats, said Julian Selizer in CNN.com. But ask Al Gore, John Kerry, or Hillary Clinton how the safer Democratic candidate tends to fare in general elections. For all of the unanswered questions about him, Beto O’Rourke “is a risk Democrats might want to take.”