Critics are labeling O’Rourke’s early exit a failure, but this misses an important point.
On Friday, Beto O’Rourke’s ill-fated bid at the Democratic nomination for President came to an end. This news came just before the former Congressman was scheduled to speak at an event in Iowa. Though many have already described O’Rourke’s run as a disappointment compared to his Senate bid against Ted Cruz in 2018, this misses the point of the good a large primary field can do. Despite his early exit, Beto O’Rourke’s 2020 campaign didn’t shy away from potentially inflammatory comments and tackled issues that the party has a whole has avoided.
Placing O’Rourke on a political compass has not been an easy task. On most issues he seemed to sit somewhere closer to the middle than Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, but still further left than say Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg. From the first debate on, this gave him a lot of room to work with and the freedom to frame his opinions without the fear of being ideologically flanked by someone else. In a sense, this freedom meant that many didn’t know what to make of him, but he was able to use this freedom to frame two issues that Democrats both on the debate stage and on the floor of Congress need to speak about in a constructive way but haven’t.
The first is immigration. It was fairly obvious that O’Rourke was going to tackle immigration head on when the issue was brought up in a debate, since he served the city of El Paso, Texas for over 15 years in some capacity. This experience has given O’Rourke a knowledge and proximity to how immigration policy works on the ground that most other candidates lacked. He and Julián Castro, who also began his political career in Texas, had some of the most well thought out immigration policy proposals, but O’Rourke’s was by far the most comprehensive. He proposed to end the current inhumane practices at the border via executive order, work with Congress to rewrite most of the immigration laws in a way that benefited those immigrating and, maybe most importantly, he emphasized the importance of federal aid to Latin American countries that Trump has mostly cut. Immigration is a complicated issue that America has shirked the duty of reforming for some time, but O’Rourke’s proposed ideas spoke to an experience with the topic and will hopefully be a road map for the frontrunners of the race going forward.
The second area that O’Rourke really exceeded in talking about was gun control. Was his “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15s” line easy fodder fro Breitbart and Fox News? Yes, and, unlike my thoughts on immigration immigration, I don’t think every Dem should tackle this issue in the way O’Rourke did. However, what he did was force Democrats in leadership and in campaigns to start talking about seizure and buy-backs in a more legitimate way. What O’Rourke did was make an extremely emotional and warranted comment on a crisis that has to be taken seriously. He by no means reshaped the debate or pushed the party left-ward, but he showed everyone just how moderate Democrats have been on guns thus far.
Beto O’Rourke’s campaign was never going to the front-runner in a race that featured the likes of Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, but, by advocating in a strong and progressive manner for two key policy issues, he might have done good by the entire party. Going forward, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see O’Rourke announce his candidacy for a position in Congress or be nominated for a role another candidates possible administration. Secretary of Homeland Security O’Rourke would fit fairly well.