Recent reports have Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer nudging nationally popular Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke toward another Senate run, this time against GOP incumbent John Cornyn, who’s up for reelection in 2020.
O’Rourke raised his profile immensely during last year’s run against junior senator and scorn generator Ted Cruz, whom he nearly beat, spooking Republicans and bringing new hope to Texas Democrats who have been getting drubbed on a state level for decades. The hope is that, along with a Democratic presidential win in 2020, the party can put up a fight in Texas and against other vulnerable senators like Arizona’s Martha McSally, who lost her election to Kyrsten Sinema but was appointed to John McCain’s old seat in a convoluted bit of GOP maneuvering. Senate control after winning the presidency in 2020 would be a big first step in undoing Trumpian damage.
But how realistic is another O’Rourke senate campaign? O’Rourke faces two tough options. After all, though he came close, O’Rourke still lost to one of the most unlikable senators ever to leave a slime trail in Senate chambers. Would his fortunes be better against Cornyn, who is as likely to show up in stock photos after a “Texas Republican” image search as he is to be recognized in a lineup of GOP senators? He’s bland, he’s reliable, and he isn’t Ted Cruz. That doesn’t seem to bode well for any Democratic challenger, even one as popular as O’Rourke.
A presidential race is a challenge. The bench is stacked with legitimate contenders, and O’Rourke distinguishes himself with his moderate stance on many issues (a necessity in reddish-purple Texas) and his ability to use name recognition to spotlight injustices. He’s also green compared to a seasoned vet like Elizabeth Warren or yet-to-declare Joe Biden, who takes up the same space and has even more name recognition. Tough sledding either way.
None of which is a knock on O’Rourke. Rather, it highlights the strength of the Democratic cadre of contenders, especially when compared with whatever offal the GOP flings at America. 2020 Trump comes with indictments, a shutdown, a failed tax scheme, a record of lies and failure, and a continually abysmal approval/disapproval split. He’ll have the albatross of a disastrous presidency hanging around his neck, something 2016 Trump didn’t have. The other “contenders” are all the bozos who lost to Trump in the primaries and have spent the meantime licking his boots. And a governor from Maryland no one knows. Maybe Jeb is energetic now.
Schumer’s strategy makes sense: flip the Senate so Democrats can bring sanity and the basic desire to govern back to Washington before holding every Trump-Russia criminal and enabler accountable for their actions. Beto O’Rourke’s decision could play a big part in the key Senate takeover that would dispatch Mitch McConnell and the GOP from a leadership position that they’ve used to enable almost every dark Trump instinct and damaging decision. Texas has been watching, and voters’ anger might give a Senate-minded O’Rourke a chance at the upset.
Chuck is a former community reporter, columnist, and Army veteran