In the aftermath of last month’s mass shooting in El Paso, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke initiated a campaign reboot that saw him turn his focus to gun control and frequent use of the word “fuck.” For the first time in months, the rising star turned also-ran won some positive attention. Even his rivals lavished him with praise at last weeks’ Democratic debate in Houston.
But that was before O’Rourke said this: “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against fellow Americans anymore.”
O’Rourke clearly went into the debate prepared to make the statement. His campaign even tweeted a link to buy a shirt with the line on it before the candidate was off the stage.
But less than a week later, O’Rourke strategy is being criticized by members of both parties for potentially scuttling gun-control legislation before it gets off the ground. Democratic senator Chris Coons responded the day after the debate with a prediction. “I frankly think that that clip will be played for years at Second Amendment rallies with organizations that try to scare people by saying Democrats are coming for your guns,” he told CNN, apparently unaware that gun groups have been saying this for years anyway.
South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg also took issue with the politics of O’Rourke’s proposal in an interview CNN’s Jake Tapper. Asked if O’Rourke’s pledge is “playing into the hands of Republicans,” Buttigieg said, “Yes.” Democratic congressman David Cicilline joined the critics too, saying O’Rourke’s “message doesn’t help” with the effort to pass bipartisan gun reform.
GOP senator Pat Toomey echoed the same sentiment, tweeting that O’Rourke’s rhetoric “undermines and hurts bipartisan efforts to actually make progress on commonsense gun safety efforts, like expanding background checks.”
Then on Wednesday, President Trump chimed in. “Dummy Beto made it much harder to make a deal,” he tweeted. “Convinced many that Dems just want to take your guns away.” O’Rourke responded without wavering.
Trump’s criticism of O’Rourke comes as he seems to be seeking a way to wriggle out of endorsing any gun-control measures. He’s dragged his feet on the issue for weeks, to the point that Republican lawmakers are publicly complaining about his lack of leadership.
On Monday, he began blaming Democrats for the inevitable failure of bipartisan gun legislation.
Now he’s found a new scapegoat, blaming O’Rourke for the lack of progress toward legislation that he was never serious about anyway.