For many months new Democratic superstar Beto O’Rourke was attacked by Republicans in Texas as he ran for the Senate against Ted Cruz.
But now that he is considered a presidential contender, he is being attacked by members of the left wing of his own party.
The 2020 Democratic primary season will be long and ugly as Democrats start attacking each other. Still it is surprising that O’Rourke is facing so much criticism this early in the process.
He appears very undecided about whether he will actually even run for president.
According to POLITICO, progressives are not happy with Beto because as a member of the House (representing Texas, we might add) he joined a non-progressive (centrist) group called the New Democrat Coalition. And he also took some campaign money from oil industry employees, although he also took money from tens of thousands of other small donors in raising over $80 million for his Senate campaign.
It appears that potential 2020 opponents are worried as they have seen O’Rourke get more positive media coverage — and also get much higher poll numbers. There is no question that these other candidates see the charismatic young Texan as a threat, and thus they are looking for ways to attack him to weaken his standing in a crowded primary field.
O’Rourke has not embraced the progressive label. In fact he has rejected all partisan labels, even though it appears that the Democratic party is moving increasingly to the left.
Reporters asked Beto if he is a “progressive Democrat” and he responded by saying:
“I don’t know. I’m just, as you may have seen and heard over the course of the campaign, I’m not big on labels. I don’t get all fired up about party or classifying or defining people based on a label or a group. I’m for everyone.”
O’Rourke’s supporters and his colleagues say that the criticisms he’s received do not bother him. But his supporters have also been forced to make a case for his progressive credentials.
Which of course is ironic since in all of his other campaigns in Texas, especially the one this year, he has been criticized for being TOO progressive.
They say he does support for Medicare for All and other progressive drug, military and immigration policies.
They point to a poll by the progressive advocacy group MoveOn this week that had O’Rourke ranked first among other 2020 Democratic candidates.
On Friday, O’Rourke met with constituents and repeated that he supports gun background checks and a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons.
Concerning where his money came from, he said:
“It is really important to remember we did not receive a single PAC contribution” and that the campaign took money from employees of a range of industries, including the “cosmetology industry, the telecommunications industry, the cupcake baking industry.”
“We received more contributions than any Senate candidate in the history of the United States of America, so we were No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 for almost every industry,” he added. Then he said:
“I am who I am. I laid out my vision for Texas and this country over the last two years without taking a single poll to find out where people were on the issues or how popular it was or how it would track in this community or that — said the same thing in Amarillo that I said in Houston, Texas, so I mean, go figure.”
Over the past month as his name has been mentioned as a possible 2020 contender, various progressive writers have attacked him in the media, which is not surprising.
They have called him “plainly uninspiring.” They have said he “rarely challenged concentrated power in D.C.” Another left-wing magazine ran a headline saying:
“We don’t need another photogenic media star with run-of-the-mill liberal politics running for president.”
Progressives were upset with O’Rourke for his 2015 vote to give Barack Obama “fast track” trade promotion authority for the controversial Asia-Pacific trade agreement. They are unhappy he has not joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
On Friday he was asked why he had not joined that caucus, and he said, “I don’t know that it was much of a conscious decision.”
He also commented that he advises House members not to join any caucus. “Don’t join any of the caucuses,” he said. “Just be there and be open to working with and getting stuff done with anyone.”
O’Rourke’s progressive allies in Texas have been shocked at the attacks from progressive activists around the country.
Veronica Escobar, the Democrat elected to take O’Rourke’s seat in the House, told POLITICO that “the proof is in the pudding.”
“I see him as a progressive Democrat,” Escobar said. Then she added, “We have to remember the commonalities before we’re too quick to tear each other apart for our differences.”
O’Rourke said that if he does run he will keep focused on the significance of the 2020 general election, not the Democratic primary.
“Whoever is running may very well be running against somebody who has not the slightest respect for our norms, our traditions, our institutions, civility, dignity, decency in public life,” he said, then added:
“This is the mother of all tests for this democracy, and whether we can run a campaign — have candidates at all levels, from school board to the White House — who are willing to focus on issues, on our potential, on our promise, on the future, instead of our fears, instead of attacking one another personally.”
“I know that something good is going to come out of all this at the end of the day. But there’s never been a darker moment, at least in my lifetime, in this country.”
Beto O’Rourke is right. What’s most important is that Democrats unite in 2020 to elect a president. And it is hoped that with this goal in mind, they will refrain from tearing each other down with negative campaigning. This is the only way that they can be sure to defeat Donald Trump, or any other Republican who may be running.
The future of our country depends on it.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.