Flashback: Back When Beto O’Rourke Was a Media Star

October 22nd, 2022 12:20 PM

Four years ago, Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke enjoyed a starring role in the liberal media’s coverage of the 2018 midterm elections. Beto’s Senate race against Texas Senator Ted Cruz was the most-covered contest on the broadcast evening newscasts that election season, and the spin was off the charts: 100% positive coverage for the Democrat, vs. 86% negative for Cruz.

This year, Beto’s trying again, taking on Texas Governor Greg Abbott, but on TV news he’s gone from a rock star to the invisible man. It’s been nearly five months since O’Rourke was even mentioned on one of the three evening newscasts. In late May, he crashed one of Abbott’s press conferences, and made it into the national news cycle for a day. After that, crickets.

It’s not hard to figure out why the national media are ghosting Beto: he’s losing, and pretty badly. The archive at RealClearPolitics shows O’Rourke currently trails by 8.7 percent, and has not led in any poll this year. At last check, FiveThirtyEight puts the odds of him beating Abbott at a meager three percent.

It’s a far cry from 2018 when the liberal media establishment gushed over Beto as an anti-Cruz missile in Texas and the potential second coming of Barack Obama on the presidential stage:

■ “Count me among the swelling ranks of the infatuated. I, too, have been Beto-struck. I have seen the alternative to Ted Cruz — Lord knows we need an alternative to Ted Cruz — and he’s a peppy, rangy, toothy progressive with ratios of folksiness to urbanity and irreverence to earnestness that might well have been cooked up in some political laboratory....Many of his campaign events are mobbed. People line up for selfies and then insist on hugs....He’s fluent in classic punk rock and contemporary country. He’s fluent in Spanish, too.”
— Columnist Frank Bruni in an April 7, 2018 New York Times article “Watch Out, Ted Cruz. Beto Is Coming.”

■ “O’Rourke offers not just a path to victory in Texas but an antidote to the entire stupid artifice of American politics in the Trump era. He’s authentic, full of energy, and stripped of consultant-driven sterility. On what planet is Beto O’Rourke not a presidential contender, even if he loses?
Vanity Fair writer Peter Hamby in an August 29, 2018 online profile of O’Rourke.

■ “Incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz won his seat by almost 16 percentage points in 2012 but recent polls show a rising Democratic star....Before running for Senate, O’Rourke was a punk rock bassist who also ran a software company before being elected to three terms in Congress... His campaign has broken all conventional rules!”
— Correspondent Bianna Golodryga on CBS This Morning, October 5, 2018.



Correspondent Paula Faris: “You can’t go ten feet without an interruption from a Beto-backer.”
Beto O’Rourke to a supporter: “I love you too! Thank you all.”
Faris: “You’re a rock star!”
— ABC’s This Week, October 21, 2018.



■ “Democratic upstart Beto O’Rourke has caught fire....Raising tons of cash and running neck-and-neck....in a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic senator for a quarter of a century. Tonight, the rising star of the party takes center stage....Can he pull off an upset in the Lone Star State?...And is this all a step to a White House run in 2020?”
— Announcer on MSNBC’s Hardball, October 30.

■ “Win or lose, Beto O’Rourke set to emerge victorious. Follow #Midterms2018 coverage here.”
— November 6, 2018 tweet from official Reuters Top News Twitter account.

■ “Like Lincoln, O’Rourke is charismatic, tall, lanky, filled with energy, an accomplished public speaker and a natural campaigner. Like Lincoln, O’Rourke is a can-do underdog with an ability to command an audience and energize an army of followers. And finally — just like Lincoln — O’Rourke would begin his quest for the presidency (he says he’s not a candidate, but who believes that), following a Senate campaign that he actually lost.”
— Writer Mark Perry in the December 1, 2018 Politico article “Beto Has a Path to the Presidency: Lincoln’s.”

■ “Let me finish tonight with a strong suggestion. It’s that Beto O’Rourke should run for president. I got a good look at Beto’s race for Senate when we hosted the Hardball College Tour at the University of Houston. There was magic in that room.”
— Host Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball, December 5, 2018.

■ “O’Rourke made national headlines when he nearly unseated Republican Senator Ted Cruz in a contentious 2018 midterm race in deep-red Texas. His record-breaking fundraising and grassroots support leading some to call him the new Obama.”
— Correspondent Morgan Radford on NBC’s Today, February 6, 2019.

■ “You could see the charisma that he has on stage, that whatever you get a camera on this guy, he has this charisma, that was that moment where he felt he had some kind of destiny. He has that gleam in his eye. Somebody, Evan Smith at The Texas Tribune said, ‘Seeing him, it’s like a Jesus Christ Superstar seeing this guy in front of people.’”
— Vanity Fair writer Joe Hagan on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, March 14, 2019, the day Beto announced his bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Yet even in a Democratic primary, the liberal media’s adulation isn’t worth as much as you might think. The presidential campaign that journalists begged for lasted only until November 1, 2019, when Beto dropped out before any votes were cast.

For more examples from our flashback series, which we call the NewsBusters Time Machine, go here.