Analysis: How “Betomania” Sunk Beto O’Rourke’s Campaign

Earlier this year, about a month before he announced his presidential bid, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke told Vanity Fair he was “just born to be in it.” But on November 1, O’Rourke formally bowed out of the race, announcing that “it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully.”

What started off as an energetic campaign that drew outsized media attention, which was later dubbed “Betomania,” came to an abrupt end three months before the first Democratic primary contest in Iowa.

In his written statement, O’Rourke said he initially decided to run for president “because I believed I could help bring a divided country together in common cause to confront the greatest set of challenges we’ve ever faced.”

He expressed gratitude to his supporters for believing in him as well. “Though today we are suspending this campaign, let us each continue our commitment to the country in whatever capacity we can,” he said.

So, what changed? Why did O’Rourke, a candidate with so much early press attention, fail to sustain his campaign in the long run? 

CNN reporter Eric Bradner wrote that the overwhelming attention O’Rourke garnered during his unsuccessful Senate bid failed to translate to the national stage. 

“The man who had been a back-bench congressman with no expectations of a political future outside of El Paso less than two years ago had barely begun to build the sort of organization it would take to sustain a serious presidential campaign,” Bradner wrote.

In August, after a deadly mass shooting in El Paso, Texas his constituency while in Congress O’Rourke took a break from the campaign to mourn with his community and the families of victims. The resurrection of calls for gun control after the shooting led to a viral moment on the Democratic debate stage in September, when he was pressed on whether he would confiscate Americans’ guns.

“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” he responded. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.”

[Related: The Media’s Beto Obsession is Harmful]

According to The Dallas Morning News, the fallout over O’Rourke’s profile in Vanity Fair was another factor that “rubbed many Democrats the wrong way, particularly in a field that included women and minorities.”

In the end, O’Rourke’s main problem was that he “was not consistently the dynamic, charismatic candidate who took the polarizing Cruz to the brink and helped put Texas Democrats back into the political game,” Dallas Morning News reporters Gromer Jeffers Jr. and Todd Gillman wrote.

Several readers also shared their thoughts on why O’Rourke’s campaign was unsuccessful with letters to the Dallas Morning News. One reader said O’Rourke’s view that he was born to run for president spoke “to his arrogance” and “‘white privilege,’” and that “without a clear message, he simply did not stand out as a serious contender for president.”

Another reader rejected the variety of explanations and tied O’Rourke’s stagnation in support to his aggressive rhetoric on gun control. 

“When O’Rourke advocated for violating the Second Amendment because all his fellow Democrats were going so radically left, he lost voters and donors who actually consider policy important,” the reader said.

In the meantime, O’Rourke has ruled out running for public office anytime soon and has pledged to support the eventual Democratic nominee “with everything that I’ve got.”

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