Never trust a man with one name, my friends. At least unless it has “pundit” stuck on the end.
I think Erick Erickson’s hunch about O’Rourke’s strategy is probably correct:
Only a candidate who already knows he is going to lose would be so bold.
The DSCC and DNC are already abandoning O’Rourke. Most major outside groups will not pour money into his race. The only folks who will support him are liberals giving money to “the cause” and outside groups trying to use O’Rourke as a way to boost liberal turnout in swing, suburban congressional races.
O’Rourke was a longshot to begin with. After he underperformed during last week’s primary while Ted Cruz blew the roof off, getting more votes than all Democratic candidates running statewide combined, he looks like a no-shot. That’s why Cruz was whispering about the risk of a blue wave engulfing Texas before the vote: By raising expectations for the left and encouraging Republican turnout to send a message, he may have smothered O’Rourke’s campaign in its infancy. How much money do Democrats really want to spend on Beto! now? The smart play for O’Rourke is to lose as a loud-and-proud unapologetic liberal, knowing that’ll win him some admirers in the national party and among cable news bookers.
And in fairness to him, arguably the loud-and-proud liberal play is the smarter way to go, as counterintuitive as that may seem. It makes sense to run as a centrist Democrat in a red state if your GOP opponent is flawed and the Republican base is wrestling with whether to support him. If X is the GOP nominee and there’s a sizable “anyone but X” contingent on the right, then the Democrat should logically run as a centrist “anyone but X” figure himself, someone who might not thrill Republican voters but seems unlikely to upset the apple cart if they send him to Congress. See, e.g., Roy Moore and Doug Jones. Cruz doesn’t have enough flaws to replicate that dynamic in Texas, though. He’s unlikable and alienated some Trumpers with his convention speech two years ago but he has Trump’s endorsement now, is whip-smart, and votes reliably conservative on all major issues. There may be an “anyone but Cruz” faction among the right in Texas but not like there was for Moore in Alabama.
In which case, if you’re O’Rourke, what do you gain by running to the center? You’ll disenchant your liberal fans and do little to attract conservative ones, who’ll see you as a pale imitation of a Republican who’s only pandering for votes anyway. Arguably the smarter move is to be the liberal firebrand, keep your fans excited and motivated, and keep the media interested. Maybe, if everything breaks just right for Democrats and a huge national wave gathers, you’ll squeak to a shock victory. If not, then you’ll probably lose by 15 points rather than the 12 you would have lost by if you’d run as a centrist. Shrug.
Besides, although it’s nutty to think that bashing the NRA will make you a senator in Texas, it’s not nutty to think that bashing it will appeal to lots of people, including gun owners. A YouGov poll taken two weeks after the Parkland shooting found the NRA’s favorable rating at 36/45, a departure from the usual even split between admirers and detractors. Even after the Newtown massacre its numbers were only 36/37. It’s been the designated scapegoat for the Parkland shooting, especially among the Stoneman Douglas students, and that’s taken a toll. Plus, as BuzzFeed demonstrated recently, opinions on gun laws differ between gun owners who are NRA members and gun owners who aren’t. Among NRA members, just 24 percent support a proposed nationwide bans on AR-15 versus 75 percent who oppose it. Among non-members who own a gun, the split is just 45/51. O’Rourke might not alienate as many Texans as you think in floating this idea. But enough will be alienated for this and other reasons to reelect Cruz safely.
Exit question: Is it true, as Trump claimed on Twitter, that there’s “not much political support” for raising the legal age to purchase long guns to 21? YouGov found support for that idea at 65/23 among the entire population and at 61/32 among gun owners. BuzzFeed likewise found support among gun owners, 53/46 among NRA members and 76/22 among non-members. There may not be much political support among Republican politicians but there’s support among the public. If Trump wanted to lead on the issue he’d have many voters on both sides behind him.