vision 2020

The GOP Is Already Attacking Beto — for His White Male Privilege

The Club for Growth finds Beto’s white innocence deeply problematic. Photo: Club for Growth via YouTube

Donald Trump’s allies have a message for the people of Iowa: Check Beto’s privilege.

Beto O’Rourke is not (yet) an official candidate for the Democratic Party’s 2020 nomination. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans from buying airtime in the Hawkeye State to attack the former Texas congressman — from the left.

This week, Iowa TV viewers will be treated to a two-minute ad titled “Pedigree,” in which the Club for Growth expresses its outrage over the deeply problematic notion that Beto O’Rourke is the new Barack Obama. Specifically, the anti-tax group paints O’Rourke as the poster child for white male entitlement. In the spot’s telling, O’Rourke has spent his whole life falling steadily upward, as his race and class privileges transformed his failures into learning experiences. Obama and O’Rourke both earned undergraduate degrees at Columbia University, the narrator allows, but “Obama went on to become the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review, breaking barriers. Beto crashed into them; causing a collision while driving drunk, then fleeing the scene to avoid accountability. His charges were dropped as people of color languished behind bars for far less.”

Obama organized poor communities in Chicago, the conservative group notes (with affected admiration); O’Rourke let his wife’s “billionaire real-estate developer” dad buy him a city council seat — then, he voted to demolish a poor Hispanic community to make way for his father-in-law’s downtown development projects. The ad concludes by casting the very concept of O’Rourke’s presidential campaign as an expression of dudebro entitlement, asking why it is that narrowly losing statewide races didn’t turn Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum into contenders. “With a charmed life like” Beto’s, the narrator explains, “you can never really lose.”

It’s a shrill little number. And in places, the ad betrays its authors’ contempt for their target audience; not least, by presuming that the most painfully woke pundits on the internet speak for the Democratic primary electorate, writ large. And yet, you can’t say the Club for Growth doesn’t have a point. It is hard to imagine someone who wasn’t a (handsome) rich white guy evading charges for DWIs, getting his billionaire father-in-law to bankroll his political ambitions, and then casting his failed Senate campaign as a qualification for the White House.

Still, if the substance of the Club for Growth ad could damage O’Rourke, the fact of its existence just might bolster him. Recent polling suggests a majority of Democratic primary voters want, above all, a candidate who will maximize their party’s chances of evicting Donald Trump from the White House. By trying to kneecap O’Rourke before he’s even entered the race, the GOP has tacitly signaled that they are afraid of the Texan. And in interviews with Politico, conservative operatives made this fear explicit:

The decision to go after O’Rourke, whose spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment, reflects a fear that he would mobilize the millennial and suburban voters who powered the Democratic 2018 House takeover and imperil Trump’s reelection. Republicans would be at risk of losing Texas if O’Rourke is the Democratic standard bearer, said Club for Growth President David McIntosh.

McIntosh said his organization recently conducted a survey of battleground states and found O’Rourke running narrowly behind the president. An O’Rourke nomination, he warned, could complicate the electoral fortunes of Republicans up and down the ballot in 2020.

“We watched what he did in Texas in the race against Cruz and realized his potential within the Democratic primary system is enormously larger than what people are giving him credit for right now. We realized, here is a real potential threat because if he is the nominee then Texas suddenly is in play,” McIntosh said.

Politico’s reporting suggests the GOP intends to meddle in the 2020 Democratic primary, early and often, as they recognize a prerequisite for reelecting their unpopular president “is to have a Democratic nominee who will be as hated as Hillary Clinton was in 2016.” Beyond O’Rourke, conservative operatives are also preparing to spotlight Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’s heretical records on criminal justice, as a means of dampening liberal enthusiasm for their candidacies.

O’Rourke, meanwhile, is apparently on the cusp of declaring his candidacy. Although he has yet to make a pilgrimage to early primary states or build up a campaign infrastructure, the New York Times reports the ex-congressman is moving “toward” a 2020 run. Whether Beto’s campaign gets defined by the Club for Growth’s message (that he’s a lightweight coasting on unearned advantages) or its meta-message (that his exceptionally competitive performance in Texas has Republicans terrified of his appeal with independents) may well determine his fate.

The GOP Is Outraged by Beto O’Rourke’s White Male Privilege