I don’t have too many rules for gambling on politics, but one of them is that you never bet against Jeff Roe. If you are unfamiliar with Roe’s work, he is the founder of Axiom Strategies, a political consulting firm which has run several high-profile Republican campaigns and is the single reason that Ted Cruz is capable of winning anything. Of course, I detest everything he stands for, but even partisans have to agree that Roe is probably the best political strategists and data architect in the game right now.
In any event, Roe thinks that Beto O’Rourke will win the Democratic nomination and, though he isn’t saying it, he thinks that he will win the general election as well. “[The Democrats] don’t have anyone of his caliber on the national stage,” Roe said of Beto. “I pray for the soul of anyone who has to run against him in Iowa.”
He’s not wrong about the Democrats having a dearth of talent in the nomination pool to run against Trump in 2020. There are about 20 names currently being floated as potential challengers, and it is hard to like any of them. Biden and Sanders are too old and too white. Harris and Booker are too green. Gillibrand and Klobuchar lack charisma. Michael Avenatti is too obnoxious and Elizabeth Warren thinks she’s an Indian. Who else even is there? Oprah? Some people are talking about bringing back Hillary Clinton. Good Lord. Beto’s kinda winning this by default, but I’m starting to like the idea irrespective of how bad the other options are.
Under normal circumstances, I would have a problem nominating someone who just lost a major election and whose highest office is in the House of Representatives. But I don’t really have a problem with it here. Beto lost his race against Cruz by 2.6 percentage points, by far the best result for a Texas Democrat in a state or national election in over 30 years. He vastly outperformed his polling, which suggests that enthusiasm for Beto defied even the bullish assumptions of pollsters who overshot moderate candidates like Donnelly, Bredesen and McCaskill. And on top of that, he raised more money than any Senate candidate in history.
It’s time for Democrats to move on from the Florida/Ohio strategy anyway. Democrats in both states horrendously underperformed their midterm expectations and they now have Republican governors, state houses, majorities in their delegation to the House of Representatives, and one or both Senators are Republican. Is there any question about whether these are red states in the age of Trump? Clinton did better in Georgia than she did in Ohio. Democrats flipped a Senate seat this year in Arizona and lost one in Florida. Sure, these states remain in play, but after the last two cycles it seems like the more Democrats throw at them, the more likely they are to lose.
Democrats have been talking about a blue Texas for at least a decade and, yeah, if these midterms tell us anything it’s that it isn’t there yet. But Beto can bring it into play. The problem with Texas has always been more that voter participation is low than that it is overly Republican. In both presidential and midterm elections, Texas consistently ranks in the bottom five for turnout percentage. In 2016, they were second-to-last with an abysmal 50.4% (the national average was 60.1%, with several states reaching the 70s). Much of Beto’s record-breaking campaign haul was used on registering and turning out new voters and the participation rate grew to 52.5% in 2018, beating the last two Presidential elections substantially. Since midterms are in general lower turnout and lean Republican, it’s possible that Beto has already made Texas a swing state with the work he has put in, and if it is not yet, a presidential campaign focusing on the state could certainly get it there.
More importantly, a Texas-focused campaign would force the Republicans to defend a state they’ve never had to defend and in which President Trump is not terribly popular. Since Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric doesn’t play well in Texas, he would likely be forced to make a decision between aggressively defending Texas with a less hardline approach or risk activating its 39.1% Hispanic population. To pursue the former risks alienating the base he owes all of his political success and to pursue the latter risks losing the one state that automatically loses the election for him.
Also, with both sides entrenched in an existential Texas stalemate, it would be easy for something to break lose from the Trump coalition. Democrats don’t have much to defend. There are a few Clinton states that were close in margin (NH, MN, NV, CO) but it is hard to see Beto losing any of these without a complete collapse, which is no less a loss than a narrow one. On the Republican side, Trump has several fronts that he would prefer to focus on. Here are a couple highly plausible scenarios, should Trump overextend himself in Texas:
Nothing could help the Democrats more than keeping the media and DNC out of swing states and letting local field offices and down-ballot candidates do the work of rebuilding the party and crafting the message. It’s hard not to see that they would be in much better shape if they And, sure, Beto’s celebrity and what would be the Right’s obsession with the rawness of his candidacy would no doubt turn the election into the spectacle that it was destined to become regardless of who gets the nomination. I guess I’m just excited about the prospect of concentrating that spectacle in an unfamiliar location and, in doing so, letting the rest of the country make a responsible and well-reasoned decision.
Or maybe I just don’t want the shitshow of 2020 coming to my state. I don’t know. Either way, it’s Beto.