He may not yet be running for president, but former Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke is going to do something none of the other announced contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination has dared to do yet: Challenge Donald Trump in a battle of rallies.
It’s all set to go down Monday night on the U.S. border in El Paso, Texas, where the president’s first campaign rally of the campaign season at the El Paso County Coliseum will face off against the O’Rourke fronted “March For Truth,” set to take place at a local high school less than a mile away.
The face-off will be freighted with a significance that runs further afield from the 2020 campaign implications, as the president’s border wall demands continue to go unmet by Congress, threatening yet another shutdown of the federal government at the end of this week.
It was only a few days ago that O’Rourke — whose political celebrity remains bright despite having been pipped at the post by incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in the 2018 midterm elections — told Oprah Winfrey in an interview that he was considering a run for the White House.
But his more immediate concerns as he prepares to face off against Trump are more local in nature: Defending El Paso, the city he represented in Congress, and debunking claims the president made during last Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.
“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime…and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” Trump said Tuesday night. “Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”
As Texas Monthly’s Robert Moore reported, Trump’s commentary rankled local officials, who urged political leaders in border cities to “push back aggressively on efforts by Trump and others to falsely characterize the region for political gain.”
Fact is that El Paso has been one of the safest cities in the nation long before the wall was built in 2008. #WallsDontWork
— Rep. Veronica Escobar (@RepEscobar) February 6, 2019
President's message about El Paso is a lie. El Paso was safe before the border wall. The President is living in an alternative universe based on a false narrative and offensive comments about our way of life. I say this as a life long Republican, businessman, and proud American.
— Jon Barela (@JonBarela1) February 6, 2019
O’Rourke has joined his fellow disdainful Texans. As he laid out in a post on Medium, he wants to play a part in countering the president’s claims that El Paso “was dangerous before a border fence was built here in 2008,” and offer America’s immigrant population something more dignified than what the White House has lately expressed. Per O’Rourke:
Beyond refuting his comments about border communities like ours (El Paso was one of the safest communities in the United States before the fence was built here), about walls saving lives (in fact, walls push desperate families to cross in ever more hostile terrain, ensuring greater suffering and death), and about immigrants (who commit crimes at a lower rate than those Americans born here), it’s worth thinking about how we got to this place. How it came to be that 11 million undocumented immigrants call America home, how we came to militarize our border, how we arrived at such a disconnect between our ideals, our values, the reality of our lives — and the policies and political rhetoric that govern immigration and border security.
In a piece that reads like the abstract of a dissertation, O’Rourke goes on at length to describe the deleterious effects of Trump-esque fearmongering on border communities.
Monday night, however, O’Rourke will have to take his mission off the page and onto the street — and challenge Trump in a field in which the president has traditionally exceeded, exciting a crowd. It’s a big claim to stake so early in a presidential race still in its protoplasmic stage.
Not only will O’Rourke be inviting a comparison between himself and Trump in terms of stagecraft, it will be an early test of O’Rourke’s ability to hold the attention of the media — which took a considerable amount of stick for the way it lavished attention on Trump’s 2016 carnival act.
Nevertheless, not much time has passed since O’Rourke — with the help of Willie Nelson — managed to draw out crowd of 50,000 people in El Paso. If he succeeds in this early high risk gambit, getting elevated in the 2020 pre-primary pecking order is one of the likely rewards.