Jean-Eric Branaa analyzes the factors behind Beto O’Rourke’s recent announcement of his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. He also covers the Democratic Party, in general; the possibility that Michelle Obama will run; and Trump’s continuing support.
Campion: Beto O’Rourke has entered the American presidential race, and early polls regularly place him high among all the other Democratic candidates. Is this a real development?
Branaa: At 46 years of age, Beto O’Rourke can credibly claim to be the Democratic Party’s rising star, because, although his rivals on the starting line are numerous (already 15), his image sets him apart. Unknown to the public until just a year ago, this former House member with a thin resume has managed to become famous by losing to former presidential candidate Ted Cruz in the 2018 Texas senatorial elections. In that right-wing, ultraconservative state he created such a sensation – one that no one could have imagined. His campaign strategy was no less remarkable, since he visited every one of the huge southern state’s 254 counties, which no one had ever done before. He is therefore now a realistic possibility with his declaration that he will campaign close to the people, even though he cannot visit every district in the U.S.!
The second advantage of Robert Francis O’Rourke, which is his real name, is his refusal to accept donations from political action committees, those gateways for lobbyists and large corporations; he remains free to make his own choices and owes nothing to anyone. He therefore campaigns on small donations, just like Bernie Sanders. Also like Sanders, he favors Congressional term limits, avoids external consultants and prefers to work on the ground. And he won’t lose his youthful charisma at age 48 in 2020, since he looks 10 years younger.
Campion: It’s still conceivable that O’Rourke will face criticism for being a white male over 40, really quite like all the others.
Branaa: O’Rourke is a former punk rocker who speaks simply in short sentences and even refers to his favorite group, The Clash, which makes him popular. He also speaks fluent Spanish, which could make a difference among Hispanic voters who have long sought a credible spokesperson. Many compare him to Kennedy, and some say he is a white Obama. Both these comparisons bother Republicans, who have already broadcast videos in Iowa arguing that he has nothing in common with either. While declining to join in anti-Trump rhetoric, he is said all the same to favor deposing him and has announced himself ready to engage him. He appeals both to centrists, being himself a moderate, as well as to progressives by supporting causes they hold dear, such as universal health coverage, concealed arms restrictions, women’s rights, abortion and gay marriage. What’s more, he publicly declared solidarity with the football players who refused to stand during the national anthem. Donald Trump likes making fun of him, calling him the “loser” in reference to his defeat by Ted Cruz last November. O’Rourke, however, declares that he will not back down from a confrontation with Trump, even if it is intense. But this is precisely his weakness: There is a little too much testosterone in such an announcement, even though the Democratic Party is looking for a new identity. It’s not inconceivable that it will, itself, condemn Beto O’Rourke for being a while male over 40 — thus really quite like all the others.
Campion: Where does the Democratic Party stand on all this, several months before the presidential campaigns begin?
Branaa: The Democrats are in a rather difficult situation. Preoccupied with total “resistance” to Trump, they have neglected their real mission of constructing a platform that responds to the general population and its problems while finding a winning and unifying candidate. The result is too many candidates, each one believing that he can “make it,” while the current occupant of the White House has destroyed all political norms for the coming election.
It’s also quickly become clear that the anger at the establishment that carried Trump isn’t limited to the Republican camp; it is equally evident among Democratic voters. It’s on this fertile soil that Bernie Sanders’s popularity grew, and which has allowed liberalism, in the far-left American sense of the word, to develop more than it has in the past 50 years. From the minimum wage to the Keystone XL pipeline, including Social Security and free college, the congressional candidates supported by the Democratic Party spread ambitious messages, ones no longer heard in local campaigns. It was these causes that became implanted among the American left during the 2016 campaign, with many believing that they could have won if there had been different campaign rules. The party is now turned over on its left side, and the progressives scored remarkable breakthroughs in the 2018 mid-terms.
All that carries within it an ever greater danger of imploding. Given the Democrats’ internal tensions, which they cannot cover up, its most senior members are taking over and proposing to lead this leftward turn. For example, during her speech immediately after becoming House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi did not wait to declare her big ethics law, which was finally approved a couple of weeks ago, even though the Senate is hardly likely to follow suit on such a thing. Meanwhile, it matters little that the symbolism and focused willingness of the progressives have to be calmed somewhat before she speaks again as the presidential race starts.
Even with its promises, the Democrats seem barely able to agree, and here again the left separates itself by lining up against Trump, not only on his record, but also on the strongest way to condemn him. Most Democrats support universal health insurance, but the centrists, who are linked to the insurance companies and hospitals that mainly finance their campaigns, just want to modify Obamacare; they only pay vague lip service to universal coverage and don’t specify by what means it could be accomplished. This is just one example of dissensions that might take on great importance, since the large number of candidates will force them to speak out more and more strongly to distinguish themselves. That will weaken them and their overall camp compared to Trump, who is hoping this will happen. Already there are some who have dropped out or not even tried because their image had gone out of fashion, such as multi-billionaire Mike Bloomberg.
Campion: Is Michelle Obama’s candidacy a real possibility or a baseless rumor?
Branaa: As all the candidates are making themselves heard two years before the election, it’s true that a possible run by former first lady Michelle Obama is talked about more and more, particularly with the appearance of her book, entitled “Becoming.” It must be added that the atmosphere right now is electrified, with candidates everywhere; nothing more need be said but that it requires a clearly stated intention for first ladies to follow the same path as their husbands, as Hillary Clinton did.
It’s well known that the Twenty-Second Amendment prevented Bill Clinton and Barack Obama from thinking about running for the Oval Office again after their two terms, but nothing prevents former first ladies from running themselves. Michelle Obama’s tour of 10 major U.S. cities after the release of her book did not calm things down. Quite the contrary.
Her fame is immense, and many believe that she can extend it into political action, rather than the just causes she holds dear. It was Barack Obama, however, who publicly dismissed the idea of his wife ever running for president, when asked. “There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and Michelle is not running for president,” he stated.
Campion: What are Donald Trump’s chances of election in 2020? What do Americans think of him?
Branaa: Trump’s reelection chances are strong for a whole bunch of reasons that are as much systemic as they are related to his accomplishments. His advantages are much more numerous than they want us to hear. The major one is that he is the incumbent, and it is the case that nearly all incumbent presidents are reelected. To be sure, there was George H. Bush, but he lost because many of his votes were siphoned off by the third candidate, Ross Perot. With Carter, it was the Iranian hostage crisis and the second oil shock that led to his defeat. Trump also stands on a solid block of supporters who never change their approval of him, no matter what happens. There’s no doubt that this extraordinary stability will go down in history as one of the main features of his presidency—it always stands between 42 and 44 per cent.
Above all, Trump’s candidacy rests on the American economy. Do we need to reiterate all the good figures that never cease to surprise the world? Unemployment, inflation, job creation, growth indexes: Trump never stops scoring successes in these areas, and his opponents have quit criticizing him on the economic plane, mainly to avoid drawing more attention to his statistics.
Nevertheless, we must not overlook that little grain of sand, the one that can trip someone up unexpectedly. And when we examine the American political landscape, we find many such grains of sand on the path to election. Donald Trump is off to a good start, but he is far from being able to claim victory before the battle. The 2020 election has many surprises in store for us.