Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Why Beto Might Win

This past month, amid great fanfare, Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke announced he is running for governor of Texas. Apparently, losing the 2018 Senate race to Ted Cruz and the 2020 Democratic presidential primary has not deterred him from a trying a third time. While we can all have a good laugh at the thought of […]

This past month, amid great fanfare, Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke announced he is running for governor of Texas. Apparently, losing the 2018 Senate race to Ted Cruz and the 2020 Democratic presidential primary has not deterred him from a trying a third time.

While we can all have a good laugh at the thought of the Spanglish-speaking, skateboarding, gun-snatching man-child running once more, this time for the highest office of the nation’s second-largest state, we should also take it seriously. There’s a good chance O’Rourke actually wins this time.

As I’ve argued before, Texas may seem like a conservative bulwark, but it is very much a battleground state that could easily turn blue under the right conditions. Senator Ted Cruz and President Trump, both well-funded and well-known candidates, won the state with relatively small margins. Texas’s major cities all reliably vote blue, and the margins in cities could get even worse for the GOP with the recent influx of new residents from blue states.

Moreover, no one should underestimate the complacency of conservatives who live in prosperous conservative states. Unlike Americans in other states who have to worry about things like employment, public safety, and being able to go out without a face mask, Texans can afford to take up progressive causes and naively vote for Democrats. Having never experienced the real effects of dysfunctional government, many younger, more formally educated Texans will push for less law enforcement, more homeless encampments, and endless progressive virtue signaling if they feel they have an attractive Democratic candidate.

Not so long ago, the red-blue flip happened in California. Once upon a time, it was a Republican state, attracting people with its great weather, limited government, and entrepreneurial culture. Then, convinced of their invincibility, voters in the state began electing Democrats. Within a few decades, it became effectively a one-party state.

O’Rourke clearly hopes to replicate this in Texas. Since the state’s economy is doing well and thus not a big priority for many voters, O’Rourke’s campaign will likely focus on cultural issues instead of economic ones: abortion, legalizing pot, and Covid-19 (which is mostly a cultural issue at this point).

O’Rourke knows he can exploit Texans’ insecurity with their conservative image. All too many Texans—I base this off of my own experience living and working in a Dallas suburb—want to be perceived as fashionable and worldly. They desperately want to shake off the popular image of Texans as provincial Bible-thumping cowboys who only know how to drill for oil—or worse, uncool propane salesmen living in ugly suburban developments. They would prefer the image of a sensitive, secular, educated progressive who smokes weed and drinks craft beer—in other words, like Beto.

Still, it’s notable that Beto brought up the power failures from the snowstorm this past February. It was one of those infamous examples of Republican leadership catering to business interests at the cost of common good. It also didn’t help the Republican cause that Beto’s old opponent, Sen. Ted Cruz, decided to go on vacation in Mexico to wait out the crisis. Ironically, it was Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to subsidize and support unreliable renewable-energy sources that played a large role in those power failures.

Since O’Rourke is a Democrat, and likely favors renewables, it’s unclear what he would have done differently as governor. More than likely, with a Governor O’Rourke, Texas would be in even worse shape—similar to California, where blackouts are common occurrences.

It’s likely that O’Rourke will also take advantage of a contentious Republican primary that may take out Governor Abbot and replace him with a lesser-known conservative firebrand. Abbott’s two main challengers, Allen West and Don Huffines, are both far to the right of him politically. Even if they fail to defeat Abbott, West and Huffines will likely force him to run away from moderate challengers, attack his record and image, and leave him foundering against an unchallenged O’Rourke who will have had all of his work done for him.

And while Abbott can brag about his large war chest, Democrats will happily throw money and support at their man (O’Rourke’s campaign raised $2 million in its first 24 hours) if they feel like there’s a possibility of victory. Rest assured, O’Rourke will once again appear on every media outlet and be hailed as the next Bobby Kennedy. So long as he doesn’t mock Abbott’s disability like Wendy Davis did eight years go, there will be a full media blitz to erase his many gaffes, his criminal record, and utter lack of political accomplishments.

All told, conservative voters have good reason to be concerned. If they aren’t careful, O’Rourke could become the next Jon Ossoff—another forgettable failure who somehow won the Senate seat in conservative Georgia.

However, if they are mindful of the threat posed by O’Rourke, Abbott can win this election and continue being a strong governor for the GOP. He has already overseen remarkable economic growth, opposed most of the absurd regulations for Covid-19, headed off the shenanigans of state Democrat legislators, and taken the right stances against illegal immigration, abortion, and attempts to dismantle law enforcement. Sure, he’s no Ron DeSantis—but he does a darn good impression. This Texan thinks that should earn Beto a third loss.

Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area. He holds an M.A. in humanities and an M.Ed. in educational leadership. He is the senior editor of The Everyman and has written essays for the Federalist, the American ThinkerCrisis magazine, The American Conservative, and the Imaginative Conservative, as well as the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.