Beto O'Rourke
Credit: Inter-American Dialogue/flickr

The political world was abuzz on Monday with the news that Beto O’Rourke hadn’t ruled out a possible 2020 run for the presidency. Given his performance in the Texas senate race, I’m going to assume that O’Rourke is smarter than the average politician. So he probably knows that the media’s obsession with him these days is dangerous, because those kinds of things are always short-lived. Hopefully, he won’t take all of the buzz too seriously.

Lately my favorite writer about Texas politics is Christopher Hooks, even though it will be a long time before anyone approaches the genius of Molly Ivins. If you haven’t already read his piece about Texas being a purple state, I highly recommend it to you. He writes this in reference to a conversation he had with O’Rourke last summer:

When I sat with him in a crummy hotel bar after a modestly attended campaign rally in Lubbock last July, he told me that he thought he could win. He didn’t succeed at that.

But he also talked, just as much, about the effect he hoped his race would have on the people around him. He would go to places Democrats don’t go, engage people in a politics that was collaborative, spontaneous and felt good, and hope that it gave them tools and encouragement to keep going after he was done. The success of that project was dependent on O’Rourke doing well enough, and proving the haters wrong. He did. Only time will tell what the race left behind. But according to his own terms — and let’s use a damn cuss here, in tribute to the man— it looks like he knocked it out of the fuckin’ park.

Perhaps that is why, in his latest column, Hooks pleads with O’Rourke not to run for president in 2020. He starts with an excellent analysis of how Democrats have failed in the past.

The nationalization of American politics and an overemphasis on the top of the ballot is a nationwide sickness, but it mostly afflicts the Democratic Party. In 2008, Democrats won the presidency and then forgot about the rest of politics — the state legislatures, the governors’ mansions — and, as a result, they spent much of the next decade in political hell.

Democrats lost control of the state legislatures in charge of redistricting, which begat election wipeouts, which meant that they lost many potential candidates for higher office. Making matters worse, Obama raided the states to stock his cabinet, a sort of political brain drain that left a shortage of good candidates to run for governor and Congress. Now, their prospects for the next years look a bit better. Democrats, taking advantage of the president’s unpopularity, stand a chance of winning control of more state legislatures in 2020 and building the foundations of their party, just as Republicans did in 2010. It’s a great opportunity, and yet Democrats seem singularly focused on the upcoming presidential primary. Democrats, God bless them, are slow learners.

He nailed it! Which is why my stomach starts turning these days as we watch the political conversation start to be consumed with talk about presidential candidates.

Hooks goes on the explain why Texas needs O’Rourke more than the rest of the country does.

It’s important that a Democrat beat Trump in 2020, but only one person can win the nomination. Most failed presidential campaigns are high-risk bids for personal glory and a waste of time and money. Meanwhile, state government and Congress bend and shapes people’s lives in unseen ways. Texas is in dire need of strong Democratic candidates who can run good campaigns and reverse the damage that decades of Republican control has done to the state.

I’m prepared to let O’Rourke and his family decide what to do next—as long as he stays in politics. But when even John Cornyn is talking about Texas becoming a purple state, it’s hard to imagine a goal more important than making sure that happens. As a former Texan, this isn’t just personal for me, although as Hooks said, there is a lot of damage the GOP has inflicted that needs to be repaired. It’s also about a state that is second only to California in the number of electoral college votes (not to mention House seats) on the brink of turning blue. That is the ultimate game-changer. If O’Rourke can do any more to make that happen, he should stay in Texas.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.