Beto had his best night yet–at the cost of another Trump term
The Democratic party held another debate last Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019–and it was a train wreck. The infighting swelled to even pettier heights, lots of bad jokes were cracked and Joe Biden said a bunch of words, including something unintentionally racist about a record player. Almost everything about it was excruciating—particularly Julian Castro’s low swipe at Biden, stopping just short of accusing him of having dementia—and Andrew Yang basically using his platform to do his best Oprah impression.
There were, however, a few glowing moments among the nonsense. For one, Pete Buttigeig’s response to the final question about what his biggest professional setback was near perfect, recounting his time in service under “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and the pressure of being who he truly was while working as a public figure in a state which did not have widespread LGBTQIA* support. As well, Elizabeth Warren played a very effective game of not taking the moderators’ bait and defended her Medicare plan from concerns of raised taxes.
But in my opinion, the star of the night was easily Beto O’Rourke. He was given unanimous support from his competitors for his response in the face of a racially charged mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso, TX. Beto capitalized well on the moment to show the passion and energy that made him such a compelling figure in his race against Ted Cruz. He used the platform to announce proudly that he is planning to go further than any candidate and campaign on mandatory turnover of assault weapons to the government. It was a powerful and much-needed bravado from a candidate in the face of an epidemic of gun violence and gave Beto the best night of his candidacy thus far—at the cost of a second Trump term.
I’ll let it be known that I fully agree with Beto. No person needs a weapon-of-war in their home, and the massive spike in shootings in recent years fully justifies a banning of assault weapons from public ownership. However, good policy does not always translate to good politics. Beto’s campaign at this point is pretty much dead in the water and I highly doubt any other candidate will adopt this sentiment for the upcoming election, leaving those left-wing people who agree with this plan disheartened and unenergized. All his expression of this policy does is energize the right-wing base.
I’m glad that this option has now entered the greater sphere of political thought, but this election is not the time nor place to do so. Democrats cannot risk to lose a single vote and by doing this, Beto has handed Republicans the perfect boogeyman to scare the s— out of their supporters. I can already imagine the political ads featuring the clip of him saying “Hell yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15’s” with something about government tyranny and tearing up the Bill of Rights with some menacing music behind it. The best media strategist in the world couldn’t come up with a better soundbite for the Republicans to use through the next year in targeted advertisements, especially in Beto’s home state of Texas, which is just on the tipping point of turning purple. As well, it all but rules out a potential Beto Senate run against John Cornyn in 2020.
Much of the right-wing base’s central fear is that of a tyrannical, overbearing federal government. Thus, they see arming themselves as a safeguard against that reality ever coming true. With this statement from Beto, that fear becomes a reality for them. Advocating for sending federal officials into homes to demand that citizens hand over their weapons is an intensely radicalizing sentiment, not only driving further gun sales, but also massive voter outcry and mobility, and like I said, the Democrats cannot risk leaving a single vote up to question.
I really do think Beto did the right thing. This stance is necessary and I truly hope public opinion shifts to the point of this extreme action. But in politics, sometimes the right thing is not the best thing. If being the best intentioned, most good-hearted and good-willed person made you a good politician, Jimmy Carter would have been the greatest president we ever had. But things just don’t work this way; this is something Beto could have advocated for post-2020 if the Democrats had secured the Senate and the Presidency, but doing so now only puts that possible reality further into question. I don’t think Beto has guaranteed a second term for Trump, but this certainly only pushes the dial more in that direction.