O’Rourke, by contrast, was a back-bencher whose leadership in Congress peaked at being the ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, for his last term.
O’Rourke is a challenge to Bernie Sanders, describing to the Vanity Fair author at length how the structure and sensibility of his Senate campaign were inspired by the Vermont senator’s upstart 2016 presidential run. He’s gambling he can do it better than a socialist with a Brooklyn accent, and by speaking off the cuff, rather than the 40-minute script Sanders sticks to nearly verbatim at every event.
O’Rourke is a challenge to the younger candidates in the race, including South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, almost 10 years younger but with seven more years of executive experience, who had been enjoying a breakout few days this week in the race before O’Rourke announced.
O’Rourke is a challenge to Cory Booker, whose entire political existence is a call for unity and hope, and to Kamala Harris. She talks in her stump speech of “speaking some truths,” while O’Rourke says in his video that this is “a defining moment of truth for this country and for every single one of us.” And O’Rourke is a challenge to Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who said that climate change is a “time of great peril, but it is also a time of great promise” months before O’Rourke said in the video that “this moment of peril produces perhaps the greatest moment of promise for this country and for everyone inside it.”
Julián Castro, a former San Antonio mayor, responded to O’Rourke’s entry by announcing that 30 more elected officials were endorsing his own campaign. Harris has her team ramping up a rally for next weekend in Houston, a week before O’Rourke holds one of his own in El Paso on March 30.
Most of all, O’Rourke is a challenge to how Democrats go back and think about Obama. Thanks to Trump, Obama has never been more beloved by his party. He was calm, and he was collected, and not every day felt like a constant crisis. What people now remember was the guy who’d gone gray by the end of eight years, signed health-care legislation, presided over the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, restored good relations with people around the world, and pushed for the Paris climate accords, all while telling dad jokes, filling out his March Madness bracket, and doing interviews with book authors.
A long time ago already, Obama became a celebrity himself, propelled to run for president mostly because of one amazing convention speech, and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize without seeming to have done all that much to earn it other than win the Electoral College and not be George W. Bush. Hillary Clinton and John McCain agreed that Obama was pitching aimless dreams, propped up by a gushing media that was obsessed with every little thing he’d do. But in the meantime, Obama built a movement, and he beat both of them, and Mitt Romney four years later even with the economy still in trouble.