Betting on Beto

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Dr. Malcolm Cross

Will he or won’t he?

It’s the hottest question in Texas politics today:  Will Beto O’Rourke run for Governor of Texas?

Democrats certainly hope he will.  So, too, should Republicans.

From a Democratic strategist’s point of view, an O’Rourke run for the governorship has much to commend it.  His name recognition is practically universal.  Moreover, he has proven fundraising prowess, making him the most likely candidate to be able to amass a campaign war chest that can make him competitive with Governor Abbot—especially if Abbott, as expected, must spend much of his own campaign fund in the GOP primary.  All, in all, Beto O’Rourke is the strongest candidate the Democrats can put up against Abbott or any other Republican.

But Beto O’Rourke has serious baggage left over from his failed 2020 presidential bid.  Running for Senator in 2018, he presented himself as a moderate, business-friendly Democrat with a pleasant personality, and thereby came close to defeating Senator Cruz.  But he tacked left in his presidential bid.  He took at least two policy positions which may well come back to haunt him in 2022, especially if Republican strategists are doing their job by storing up his comments to be used as ammunition in the upcoming gubernatorial campaign.

First, O’Rourke presented himself as a strong supporter of gun control.  According to an online report of a debate among Democratic presidential contenders, “Presidential contender Beto O’Rourke does not shy away from saying he would require citizens to turn in their military-style weapons when asked about gun control during Thursday night’s Democratic debate.  ‘Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,’ O’Rourke said in one of the biggest lines of the night. O’Rourke added: ‘We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans any more.’ He said some people at a gun show accepted the weapons were not needed for hunting.” You can check out his position at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2019/sep/13/beto-orourke-on-gun-control-hell-yes-were-going-to-take-your-ar-15-video.

In fairness to O’Rourke, it must be admitted he apparently does not favor the confiscation of all guns.  In response to additional questioning in another forum about gun confiscation, he reiterated his support “when it comes to AR-15s and AK-47s, weapons designed for use on a military battlefield.”  But he added that “when it comes to firearms used for hunting or self-defense, the answer is no.” Deconstructions and analyses of O’Rourke’s position on gun control can be found at https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2019/oct/21/beto-orourke/despite-his-claim-presidential-candidate-beto-orou/.  His position seems more complex than many critics on the right are willing to acknowledge.  Nonetheless, he has provided fodder for believers in gun owners’ rights.

Second, when O’Rourke was asked in the course of his presidential campaign, “Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?”  he replied, “Yes.  There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, or any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so as president, we are going to make that a priority, and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”  

Whatever the virtues of O’Rourke’s views, they were too much for—of all people—Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay presidential candidate, who is in a legal same-sex marriage as well.  He claimed that O’Rourke’s position clearly violated the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom, and its implementation would already deepen societal divisions.  O’Rourke’s comments, and pushback from both Buttigieg and Elizabeth Warren, who claimed support for both gay rights and religious freedom, can be read at https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/o-rourke-says-churches-against-gay-marriage-should-lose-tax-n1065186 and https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/o-rourke-says-churches-against-gay-marriage-should-lose-tax-n1065186.  If O’Rourke couldn’t effectively make his case before fellow Democrats, how can he effectively respond to the inevitable assault from the GOP and its Christian conservative supporters in Texas?

Should Beto O’Rourke be elected Governor of Texas, he will find himself the brightest star in the Democratic firmament.  He will be the odds-on favorite to be the next Democratic nominee for president or vice president because he will have pulled off an almost impossible stunt, thereby showing he could possibly win Texas’ electoral votes for the Democrats for the first time since 1976.  But precisely because Texas remains red, even if Beto O’Rourke has the best chances of any Democrat to be our next Governor, his chances really aren’t that good at all.


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

1 Comment

  1. One could foresee a problem for Governor Abbott and the Republicans if the
    famous Texas Grid crashes again this winter…..

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