2020·3 min read

Beto O'Rourke’s pitch for 2020

June 24, 2019

Editor's Note: Beto O'Rourke dropped out of the race on Nov. 1, 2019.

This article was updated on Oct. 29, 2019 to include our conversation with O'Rourke.

The Who

Robert “Beto” O’Rourke came thiiis close to unseating Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in 2018. His grassroots campaign made him a rising star in the Democratic party and now he’s eyeing the presidency.

The Resume

Former Democratic congressman from Texas, former El Paso City Council member, former punk rocker.

The Elephant in the Room

His low poll numbers. He launched his campaign with an interview in Vanity Fair, where he said he was "born to be in it." Some saw the message as entitled. He's gotten pushback for comments and behavior related to his wife, including her sitting silently next to him during his campaign video. And a comment he made praising her for raising their kids while he "sometimes" helps. He’s also been criticized for his charitable giving record since releasing his tax returns.

The 2020 policies

On immigration...he wants to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and is against Trump’s hardline immigration policies – including the “zero tolerance” policy that resulted in family separations and a US-Mexico border wall. He wants the US to stop using private, for-profit detention centers and detaining undocumented immigrants without criminal backgrounds. He’s said he’d support tearing down the current wall in El Paso, his hometown and one of the largest cities on the border.

On climate change…he unveiled a $5 trillion plan that involves investing in clean energy research and infrastructure. He says he'd pay for it mainly through changes to the tax code. The plan: to get to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, a goal outlined in the Green New Deal. It’s not clear if his plan involves carbon taxes. But he’s gotten pushback from the left for getting donations from the fossil fuel industry during his 2018 Senate race.

On health care...he supports moving toward a universal health care system. He wants a system that would expand access to gov-backed health insurance but would also keep employer-sponsored and private insurance in place.

On guns...he owns them. But he says he wants universal background checks as well as a ban on assault weapons and some semiautomatic weapons. In 2016, he live-streamed a sit-in he had on the House floor to support stricter gun laws in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida.

On education...he wants to make community college tuition-free and four-year college debt-free...though it’s not clear how. He also supports wiping away debt for students who go into under-served fields. And let people refinance their loans at lower rates.

On criminal justice...he wants to close for-profit prisons and decriminalize marijuana. Worth noting: he was arrested twice in the ‘90s. Once, for attempted forcible entry after hopping a fence at the University of Texas. The other time, he was charged with a DWI. Both charges were dropped. He says those experiences shaped his view that everyone deserves a second chance regardless of things like race and socioeconomic status.


In 2018, O’Rourke’s ability to connect with voters made him seem like the next big thing in Democratic politics. But launching a national campaign has opened him up to more scrutiny. It means he’s up against a group of diverse and often more experienced candidates. And he’s been struggling to make a case for himself without a signature policy priority. The question is whether his broader message of hope and unity can give his campaign the jolt it needs to stay in the race.

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