Monday, March 18, 2019


I have serious doubts about Beto O'Rourke, but it looks as if whatever he's doing is working:
Beto O’Rourke raised more than $6 million online in the first 24 hours after announcing his presidential campaign last week, according to his campaign, outpacing his rivals for the Democratic nomination....

Mr. O’Rourke brought in $6,136,736 ... raising the sum entirely online and from all 50 states, the campaign said.

He narrowly beat the first-day haul of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who raised $5.9 million after announcing his bid last month....
A BuzzFeed story by Molly Hensley-Clancy argues that while O'Rourke may have committed a number of gaffes in his campaign rollout, he's impressing a lot of voters who want something to believe in.
O’Rourke’s entrance into the presidential race unleashed a wave of cynicism and hard-boiled skepticism on insider Twitter and cable news.... There were groans on Twitter for everything from O’Rourke’s habit of jumping up on counters to his campaign website’s merchandise to a Vanity Fair cover story published the day before O’Rourke announced his run — summed up by a CJR reporter with, “why is he running this is so dumb.”

Across a breathtaking succession of stops throughout Iowa, from three different countertops, one podcast studio, and one truck bed, the first three days of O’Rourke’s campaign unfolded a world away. It wasn’t that Iowans hadn’t seen the skepticism about O’Rourke. It was that many of them didn’t much care....

They were entranced, they said, by his charisma, his oratory, and his particular style of campaigning — down-to-earth, personal, and relentlessly positive. Though few were willing to commit to voting for him, as is common this early in Iowa, many said they were convinced that he could deliver on the promise of unity that he offered at every campaign stop.

“I tend to agree with some of the stories ... but I look at him and he’s the only one that gives me that hope,” said Anne Phillips, a graphic designer who saw O’Rourke interviewed for a podcast in Cedar Rapids. “I want reconciliation, and he brings that to my heart. I sense in him that he can bring us back together.”
Hensley-Clancy's headline is "Twitter’s Insiders Are Skeptical About Beto O’Rourke. Iowans Don’t Seem To Care." Politico's David Siders cares, however -- as far as he's concerned, this was a "rocky rollout." But notice how Siders keeps having to downplay the excitement with which O'Rourke is being greeted. (Emphasis added below.)
A more disciplined candidate might not have been so sloppy, with months to prepare and adoring crowds waiting.

Yet there was Beto O’Rourke, wobbling on policy, offending women with a joke about child care, frustrating local Democrats with his high-handedness and picking bewildering fights with the press.

Four days into his presidential campaign, O’Rourke’s supporters are still stuffing themselves into coffee shops and living rooms across the Midwest to see the Democratic sensation as he motors east from Iowa to New Hampshire in a Dodge Grand Caravan. And O’Rourke by the weekend was moving deliberately to speak more specifically about policy, to hold more organized events and to mend his relationship with the media....

“For all the fanfare, the band was playing a pretty flat tune,” Dave Nagle, a former congressman and Iowa state Democratic Party chairman, said after watching O’Rourke address a large rally from the bed of a red Ford Ranger in Waterloo, Iowa. “There’s just no substance to it.”

... It was not a clean start to O’Rourke’s 2020 run. Though he benefited from nonstop media coverage and his own political acuity — thrilling crowds by addressing them from café countertops and delivering a passionate, widely viewed response to the mass shooting in New Zealand last week — O’Rourke’s opening act also laid bare disorder in his campaign.

... Hosts of multiple events in Iowa said they were informed unusually late about logistics, especially given the large crowd sizes O’Rourke could command.
The criticisms of O'Rourke are valid. He's extremely vague on policy. He's getting away with a Kerouac act that a female candidate, especially one with small children, couldn't. Some of his votes in Congress weren't progressive. What he said about the division of parenting labor in his marriage was sexist.

But whatever he's doing is working. Donald Trump had a sloppy, unstructured campaign in 2016, and while he had a lot of help -- from Russia, from James Comey, from the Hillary-loathing media -- he won the nomination and the election.

The lesson the media should have learned from that is that rigorous attention to campaign detail might not be the secret to electoral success. Inspiring large masses of voters might matter a lot more.

It's quite possible that O'Rourke will stumble, and the campaign problems raised in the Politico story might be the cause of his downfall. But the press predicted Trump's downfall every day for a year and half, and it never came. The media should at least acknowledge that the importance of proper form might be overrated, and that a candidate with celebrity dazzle might win even if his campaign breaks most of the rules.

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