Jennifer Rubin: What we can learn from Beto O'Rourke

Jennifer Rubin: But in a crowded field, (Beto O'Rourke) seemed in over his head — better known for jumping on counters and casting out a gun confiscation scheme than in establishing himself as the RFK whom so many Democrats thought he might turn out to be.

Jennifer Rubin commentary

Running for president is hard. It is especially hard if you are not disciplined and do not have a complete, consistent message. It was no surprise then that Beto O'Rourke dropped out of the Democratic presidential race, joining former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Reps. Eric Swalwell of California, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Tim Ryan of Ohio. (New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also came and went.)

The premise of the O'Rourke campaign — an eloquent and moderate uniter — almost worked in a Senate race. But in a crowded field, he seemed in over his head — better known for jumping on counters and casting out a gun confiscation scheme than in establishing himself as the RFK whom so many Democrats thought he might turn out to be. From the cringe-worthy cover of Vanity Fair to the awkward video announcement to the f-bombs, he simply did not seem "presidential" — that is, someone single-minded, devoted and utterly prepared to lead a country with as many grave problems as ours. He never quite escaped the impression he was a bit of a dilettante. For those of us who opined that a woman as lightly credentialed as he likely would not have run, it is reminder that no one is "born" to do this. A little self-reflection can prevent a public belly-flop.

Part of his problem was South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, another center-left young candidate, but one far more eloquent than most of the candidates. If you wanted a smart, young white guy, Buttigieg was simply a better candidate than O'Rourke.

O'Rourke's insistence on foregoing a Senate race may not disappoint Democrats as much as one would expect. The smell is off the rose. He's now a two-time failed candidate. Is his career over? Hardly. He might seriously consider running for mayor of the city he so dearly loves and ably comforted after a mass shooting, El Paso, Texas. He might run for the House again. He might pursue some other type of public service. In particular, going out to register every young person he can find would be a huge service to the party and the country.

What, if anything, is to be learned from him and the other dropouts? For starters, it is not a good idea to run from the House or as an ex-member of the House. The gravitas expected for a presidential run is rarely found in a congressman.


In addition, we should dispense with the notion that white men are the most electable. Of the eight to drop out, seven were white men. Rather than gender or race, the key remains, as it has been since the onset of the modern primary system, the candidate's ability to inspire enthusiasm and confidence. Much has been made of the fact that there is only one woman and no non-white candidates in the top four. Well the race is not over, but lots of candidates are failing — especially those who have not run for president before.

Finally, O'Rourke's failure certainly stands for the proposition that gimmicky proposals really do not work. Coming up with the most extreme gun proposal (or extreme-anything proposal) is not a ticket to success. Rather than seen as cutting-edge, it is just as likely to convey the impression of flightiness, especially if you cannot answer some basic questions (i.e., how is this going to work?).

The field is narrowing. Like an Agatha Christie mystery, the guessing-game of "Who will be eliminated next?" continues.

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post. She can be reached at or on Twitter @JRubinBlogger .

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