A Democrat serious about taking on Trump in 2020 must take one crucial step first: secure the blessing of the man who many still see as the leader of the party. Beto O'Rourke, who just got done losing to Ted Cruz in Texas, has officially taken that first step, and many are hoping it's the beginning of "Beto 2020."
O'Rourke, a representative from Texas who gave up his seat to fall about 200,000 votes (2.6%) short of becoming a senator, has continued to enjoy the rock star media coverage of someone who actually won their race in part because he managed to get a lot closer to dethroning Cruz than many thought he could in Texas — but mostly because he has the charisma that most of the other potential Democratic presidential candidates are glaringly lacking.
Former President Barack Obama recently commented on that charisma, saying O'Rourke sort of reminds him of himself. "The reason I was able to make a connection with a sizable portion of the country was because people had a sense that I said what I meant," Obama told his former strategist David Axelrod in an interview for "The Axe Files" podcast. "What I oftentimes am looking for first and foremost is, do you seem to mean it? Are you in this thing because you have a strong set of convictions that you are willing to risk things for? What I liked most about [O'Rourke's] race was that it didn’t feel constantly poll-tested. It felt as if he based his statements and his positions on what he believed."
Obama's aides have reportedly been saying similar things. "We've had a lot of former Obama alumni saying: 'If we can be helpful as you think about this, let us know. If you want our perspective on what it's like to run a national campaign, let us know,'" a former O'Rourke aide said, NBC News reports.
The public praise from team Obama follows a private meeting between the former president and the potential candidate that has just come to light. On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that O'Rourke met with Obama at his offices in D.C. on November 16 to discuss a presidential run.
"The meeting was the first sign of Obama getting personally involved in conversations with O’Rourke, who, despite his November loss in a U.S. Senate race in Texas, has triggered more recent discussion and speculation than any other candidate in the burgeoning 2020 field," the Post reports.
News of the meeting comes just a week after Beto told supporters at a town hall in El Paso that he's considering running, "pending discussions with his family," the Post notes. But it also comes amid pressure for him to take another stab at a Republican-held Texas senate seat, this time John Cornyn's, who's up for re-election in 2020.
Obama, meanwhile, has already met with a number of potential presidential contenders, including Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. As for any signs from Obama about which of the leading candidates he's most enthused about, he likely won't be tipping his hand anytime soon.
The Post notes one seemingly awkward aspect of the relationship between O'Rourke and Obama: O'Rourke turned down Obama's offers to endorse him during the 2018 election, his campaign even deciding not to air a video Obama recorded for him. But political expediency is something Obama understands, and O'Rourke's campaign appears to have determined that Obama would have hurt more than he would have helped in Texas.