Riding Around with Beto O’Rourke as He Comes to Grips with a Presidential Run – Vanity Fair
Settling into an armchair in his living room, he tries to make sense of his rise. âI honestly donât know how much of it was me,â he says. âBut there is something abnormal, super-normal, or I donât know what the hell to call it, that we both experience when weâre out on the campaign trail.â
OâRourke and his wife, Amy, an educator nine years his junior, both describe the moment they first witnessed the power of OâRourkeâs gift. It was in Houston, the third stop on OâRourkeâs two-year Senate campaign against Ted Cruz. âEvery seat was taken, every wall, every space in the room was filled with probably a thousand people,â recalls Amy OâRourke. âYou could feel the floor moving almost. It was not totally clear that Beto was what everybody was looking for, but just like that people were so ready for something. So that was totally shocking. I mean, like, took-my-breath-away shocking.â
For OâRourke, what followed was a near-mystical experience. âI donât ever prepare a speech,â he says. âI donât write out what Iâm going to say. I remember driving to that, I was, like, âWhat do I say? Maybe Iâll just introduce myself. Iâll take questions.â I got in there, and I donât know if itâs a speech or not, but it felt amazing. Because every word was pulled out of me. Like, by some greater force, which was just the people there. Everything that I said, I was, like, watching myself, being like, How am I saying this stuff? Where is this coming from?
âThereâs something that happens to me,â he says, âor that I get to be a part of in those rooms, that is not like normal life. I donât know if that has ever happened to me before. I donât know if that would happen again.â
At 46, OâRourke is only a couple of years younger than former rival Ted Cruz. But part of the excitement, and the content of his potential candidacy, is generational. Whereas Obama is from the tail end of the baby boom, Beto OâRourke is quintessentially Generation X, weaned on Star Wars and punk rock and priding himself on authenticity over showmanship and a healthy skepticism of the mainstream. He came of age in a world of crumbling taboos over personal revelation, which has clearly peaked with Donald Trump, whose relentless Twitter habit has basically set the table for OâRourkeâs open-book style. Whether onstage or on Facebook Live or in person, OâRourke has a preternatural ease. That openness is part of what he loves about campaigning. âI think thatâs the beauty of elections: You canât hide from who you are,â he says. âThe more honestly and directly you communicate to people why youâre doing this, the way in which you want to serve them, I just think that the better, more informed decision that they can make.â
If the message is honesty, the medium is, patently, social media. OâRourke speaks admiringly of Bronx-born congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, with whom he shares some overlapping political convictions but also a talent for the sort of viral disclosures and vignettes, delivered on Twitter or Instagram, that are disrupting national politics. âShe does not seem to me to be afraid of making a mistake, or not saying it perfectly,â he says, âand in the process says the most importantâI think some of the most importantâthings anyone can be talking about right now, and sheâs freed herself from fear.â
A candidate of honesty and basic decency, Ã la Jimmy Carter, is in high demand among a lot of Democrats looking for optimal results in 2020, as is that sense of generational shift that powered Democratic campaigns dating back to John F. Kennedy (whose Profiles in Courage is in OâRourkeâs library). But OâRourkeâs radical openness can also look like naÃ¯vetÃ©, as with his Instagrammed teeth-cleaning, which was quickly clipped, isolated from its context, and made to look ridiculous. Skeptics question whether OâRourkeâs political transcendentalism can sustain the meat grinder of a national election. In a Democratic primary, he will not have the bogeyman of a Trump or a Cruz from which to draw voter energy. He is decidedly not the street fighter many Democrats crave. And in a zero-sum world, his astounding run against Ted Cruz in last yearâs Texas Senate race, historic as it was, was still a loss.