Ruben Navarrette: O'Rourke's heated reaction to the El Paso massacre was the right one

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
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SAN DIEGO -- Whether you're a journalist talking about politicians, or a politician talking to journalists, sometimes you just have to throw up your arms and shout: "What the f---?"

Such was the response when a reporter asked Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke what President Trump could do to prevent mass shootings like the one that tore a hole in the presidential candidate's hometown of El Paso, Texas.

Gosh. Reporters are supposed to be detached, but not delusional. Was this journo really asking what the arsonist could do to prevent future wildfires?

Visibly exasperated, the former congressman dumped the canned remarks he falls back on in debates, interviews and speeches -- all of which have driven his campaign into the ground. And he literally threw up his arms.

"What do you think? You know the s--- he's been saying," O'Rourke said. "He's been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don't know, like, members of the press, what the f---?"


It was the expletive heard around the political world. It carried extra weight because it came from someone whose wife and children live in El Paso and could well have, that terrible morning, been shopping at the Walmart that became the site of what is being called the worst attack on Latinos in U.S. history. That's where 24 people were injured and 22 people died -- including many Mexican Americans and at least 8 Mexican nationals.

Don't tell O'Rourke this, but he's not Mexican American. Still, he obviously takes personally the fact that a 21-year-old white supremacist picked up a high-powered rifle, left his home in a largely white suburb in North Texas, drove 10-12 hours to a heavily Latino border city, and allegedly opened fire on innocents. The assailant apparently wanted to do his part to fend off what Trump has himself often described as an "invasion."

O'Rourke's initial comments about the tragedy were not all that unique and inspiring. He had been on the road campaigning on the day of that attack. And, as he spoke to supporters and reporters about what had transpired back home, he was sad but subdued.

But then the Texan got home and saw with his own eyes the damage done to a community he loves. And he just lost it -- in the best sense of that phrase. In subsequent interviews, he delivered one body blow after another to Trump -- all but accusing him of being an accomplice to the crime. He even told the president to not visit El Paso, and that the best way to pay his respects was to stay away.

"This is the most racist president we've had since perhaps Andrew Johnson, in another age and another century, and he is responsible for the hatred and the violence that we're seeing right now," O'Rourke told CNN's Chris Cuomo.

The tough talk was effective. We know this because other Democratic candidates followed suit, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. We also know it because Trump responded by doing what Americans expect their president to do in a national crisis: He tweeted.

"Beto (phony name to indicate Hispanic heritage) O'Rourke, who is embarrassed by my last visit to the Great State of Texas, where I trounced him, and is now even more embarrassed by polling at 1% in the Democrat Primary, should respect the victims & law enforcement -- & be quiet!" Trump wrote.

O'Rourke tweeted back: "22 people in my hometown are dead after an act of terror inspired by your racism. El Paso will not be quiet and neither will I."


Good on you, Congressman. We don't need quiet. It was being quiet about white supremacy that brought us to this moral cul-de-sac.

Since the massacre, Mexican Americans have been feeling sorrow, fear and rage. O'Rourke has tapped into No. 3.

Look, no columnist in America has been more critical of O'Rourke than me. I think his presumptuous stab at cultural appropriation has set back the cause of political empowerment for actual Latinos. I think that he doesn't do his homework, benefits from white privilege (as he has admitted), and acts like he's entitled to a smooth ride through life -- which could include a stop at the White House

Something changed when the bullets started flying in his hometown. The smooth ride led to a pileup with multiple fatalities and blood on the highway.

For O'Rourke, it was time to grow up. And grow up, he did. Unfortunately for the country, Trump never will.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

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