Editorial: Stop calling Beto O’Rourke a progressive candidate


Nathan Hunsinger | TNS

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) during a debate with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at McFarlin Auditorium at Southern Methodist University in Dallas on Sept. 21, 2018.

Tuesday found Beto O’Rourke, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, at Penn State University as part of a campaign that has already passed through Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan.

O’Rourke announced his candidacy last Thursday, following a close Senate race last year that gained America’s attention. His speech at Penn State yesterday touched on a variety of progressive issues he plans to champion as president, including climate change, the opioid crisis and economic equality. And while O’Rourke quickly rose in fame and favor following his failed Senate bid, his past voting record as a member of the House of Representatives doesn’t match the progressive image he currently projects.

The former Texas congressperson seems to be surrounded by the same “celestial choirs” that Hillary Clinton remarked surrounded then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008. Within the first 24 hours of announcing his candidacy for the presidency, O’Rourke reported raising $6.1 million for his campaign. This is more than any Democratic candidate has raised in the first 24 hours of this particular race so far.

He even beat out Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who according to the most recent poll from CNN is the second most popular Democratic candidate, with the support of 20 percent of Democrats and democratic-leaning independents. Sanders raised $5.9 million in the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy.

There are parallels between O’Rourke and Obama: like Obama in 2008, O’Rourke is tall, thin, young — 46 years old, compared to Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Sanders, who are 76 and 77, respectively. He’s intelligent, has little experience in politics and is riding a wave of popularity in an attempt to usurp a Republican sitting president.

He has also presented himself as a progressive liberal candidate — but his voting record begs to differ, which reporter Zaid Jilani pointed out in an article for Current Affairs.

“While the Democratic base is coalescing around single-payer health care and free college, O’Rourke sponsored neither House bill,” Jilani said. “During his time in Congress, he never joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”

Rather, he was a member of the New Democrat Coalition, which was founded in 1997 and has moderate, centrist goals more reminiscent of Clinton-era democratic policies than progressive ideals.

In fact, during his time in Congress, O’Rourke cast 30 percent of his votes in line with the Trump administration’s position. He voted in favor of Republican bills that weakened Wall Street regulations and the Affordable Care Act, helped the fossil fuel industry and furthered President Donald Trump’s immigration policy.

While O’Rourke might be the kind of centrist Democrat who can win in Texas, he’s not the kind of progressive Democrat people make him out to be. He’s not the next Obama, either — his voting record shows he’s actually worked to undo a lot of the policies Obama enacted during his tenure.

It’s too early to say whether Democrats will bet on a progressive or someone more centrist, but it’s too late for O’Rourke to rebrand himself as a progressive.