Intelligencer, January 2019
George Will has been a reactionary for longer than Beto O’Rourke has been alive. Will was an adviser to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign, climate change denier, and fierce opponent of Social Security. His hatred of progressivism is so deep and comprehensive, he may be the only nationally syndicated columnist who has called for the abolition of both the minimum wage and denim pants.
But last summer, Will advised his readers to “vote against the GOP this November” — no matter where they lived.
“The principle: The congressional Republican caucuses must be substantially reduced,” Will explained. “So substantially that their remnants, reduced to minorities, will be stripped of the Constitution’s Article I powers that they have been too invertebrate to use against the current wielder of Article II powers.” In other words: Congress’s failure to check Donald Trump’s abuses of power represented a threat to the republic itself — and thus, Republican voters had a duty to put country over party, and empower the president’s political adversaries.
Will was not the only lifelong conservative to render this verdict. Max Boot, a neoconservative intellectual who once decried Brown v. Board of Education as an attack on the Constitution — and opposition to the Iraq War as mindless isolationism — wrote in October 2018, “Vote against all Republicans. Every single one.”
Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke refused to endorse this advice.
When O’Rourke visited Texas’s 23rd Congressional District last August, FiveThirtyEight’s forecast gave the GOP a one-in-four chance of retaining control of the House. Which is to say: At that time, there was (ostensibly) a 25 percent chance that Republicans would pay no electoral price for abetting two years of Trumpian corruption and misrule; rushing deeply unpopular health-care and tax bills through Congress with minimal democratic oversight (unsuccessfully in one case, successfully in the other); and campaigning for reelection on a mix of xenophobic demagoguery and bald-faced lies about their party’s fiscal priorities. Had this occurred, congressional Republicans would have received confirmation that gerrymandering had insulated them so thoroughly from democratic accountability, even a historic wave election couldn’t loosen their grip on power. There is no telling what a unified Republican government would have done with such knowledge.
Given this context, one might have assumed that O’Rourke had come to the 23rd — a GOP-held district that Hillary Clinton had won in 2016 — to endorse the Democratic candidate for the district’s House seat, Gina Ortiz Jones, an Iraq War veteran with a long and distinguished record of public service.
In reality, O’Rourke did quite the opposite. As the New York Times reports:
["A Democratic Party] county chairwoman posed an uncomfortable question. Mr. O’Rourke had not endorsed Ms. Jones. In fact, he had elevated her Republican opponent, Representative Will Hurd, with frequent praise and, most memorably, a live-streamed bipartisan road trip that helped jump-start their midterm campaigns. Would Mr. O’Rourke support the Democrat?
He would not.
“This is a place where my politics and my job and my commitment to this country come into conflict,” Mr. O’Rourke said. “I’m going to put country over party.”
…In Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, his choice was more than symbolic. Mr. Hurd won by fewer than 1,000 votes, and many voters and local activists hold Mr. O’Rourke — whose success helped lift down-ballot candidates across the state — largely responsible for Ms. Jones’s defeat.
Will Hurd is a (relatively) moderate Republican. As a representative of a border district, Hurd has been a prominent critic of Trump’s immigration policies. But he also votes with his Republican colleagues more than 90 percent of the time, criticized the FBI for declining to prosecute Hillary Clinton in 2016, aided Devin Nunes’s efforts to discredit the Mueller investigation, and opposes federal funding for abortion services. More critically, Hurd would like the Republican Party to control the House of Representatives. Had the GOP retained control of the chamber, he would have voted to let conservative Republicans decide what legislation Congress can and cannot vote on. Given the stakes of the 2018 election, his personal “moderation” should have been irrelevant to O’Rourke — especially since it was not inconceivable that the outcome of the race in that district could determine House control.
By boosting Hurd, and spurning Ortiz Jones, O’Rourke did not put “country before party”; he put himself before both. ...
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