Here’s the thing about those bright, shiny human objects that are so irresistible to those of us in media: The truth is that, like so much bling, they are merely fool’s gold, soon tarnished by reality. The overexposure reveals that there’s little under the gloss, and this “next big thing” is very quickly reduced to “same old, same old.”
So it was with Beto O’Rourke. He skyrocketed to national fame as the Democrat who almost beat a Republican for U.S Senate in Texas, which has turned indelibly deep red. But the Republican was Ted Cruz, who has not exactly been Senator Congeniality. Through his career he has managed to antagonize just about anyone he encounters. That doesn’t exactly endear anyone with the voters, who are usually turned off by someone who mainly exudes smarm. He’s so unpleasant that he ran for president and got derailed by Donald Trump, who was in a crass by himself -- and still is.
But since Trump stunned Hillary Clinton -- and, might I add, those of us in media -- the muddled Democrats were looking for someone, anyone, to fill the void. They realized that they didn’t have any heir apparent, so they basically opened it up to virtually every American who had a pulse. Among those was Beto O’Rourke, who, after losing to Cruz, didn’t really have much to do, so he decided to run for president.
He was the consummate millennial, young, fit and wholly unprepared, oh excuse me, new. He was such a novelty that Vanity Fair, always anxious to identify with hip relevance, decided that Beto O’Rourke deserved not only an article, but also a cover of the magazine. That’s all that the rest of us in media needed, since we too are considered hip and relevant.
We were all in, and when Beto O’Rourke announced that yes, he would be running for president, and that by the way, he was “born” (see the Vanity Fair article) to do so, we media folks gave him the royal treatment he seemed to deserve. It followed then that he immediately raked in a ton of money from voters who were desperate to support anyone not named Donald Trump.
The aftermath was a slow crash and burn. Inevitably, adoring news coverage is followed by skeptical coverage. In other words, we finally start doing our jobs. What we found out was that there wasn’t much “there” there. Beto, to put it bluntly, was just an empty suit, except that he mostly dressed in millennial casual. At the end of his year and a half decline, he was reduced to getting attention by using the f-word a lot.
Trump is the exception to the Rule of Gimmickry in politics. His uniquely obnoxious act has been playing for four and a half years now. Of course it’s not an act. He’s a genuinely detestable man. His own empty suit is filled with hatred. And it works. For him, not the country. He’s intimidated his fellow Republicans into abandoning whatever principles they had.
As for the Democrats, they’re fighting a last-ditch battle to remove him from the White House and send him on his way to the Big House. At the same time, they are frantically looking for someone they can brighten up to excite the opposition to Trump. So far, they are failing miserably.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.