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Beto's Overt Play to Identity Politics

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The 2018 Texas Senate race trots on and in this gritty fight for the heart of Texas Mexican culture, Republican Senator Ted Cruz has not hesitated to remind voters that he is the true representative for Texas Hispanics.


Formerly Rafael E. Cruz, the Senator began labeling himself as Ted while attending Harvard, but he is not shying away from his ethnic make-up in this muddy battle for the Lone Star Senate seat. His competitor, Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke has been able to sway voters left and right for his policies, but even more from his misappropriated name and Whataburger publicity stunts.

O’Rourke, an El Paso citizen, received the nickname “Beto” from his grandfather at a very young age, and has made this name the staple of his campaign. Black and white signs can be seen all over Texas with only the words “Beto for Senate” on them, not even mentioning his real name. Shirts, bumper stickers, celebrities, are all flocking to this touted boyhood nickname.

Raised in a family purely of Irish decent, O’Rourke has successfully used this nom de plume to draw out the Hispanic vote, as well as the remaining slew of the dwindling ‘Blue Wave’ vote. Eager young Democrats can be heard shouting ‘Beto’ from the top of their lungs on social media and at rallies all over Texas.

It’s not the first time a candidate seeking a higher office has gone by a nickname. In the 1950s signs all over the country read “I like Ike,” referring to the five star general and war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower. Richard M. Nixon was known simply as Dick. Voters went to the polls in 1980 to cast their ballot for ‘Dutch’ Reagan, and Bill Clinton came out of Arkansas as “Bubba.”


But “Beto” carries a different weight than just a nickname. It is an attempt to indicate the culture that he was surrounded by growing up in El Paso, a city that at the time of his youth was about 65% Hispanic, and is now 81% Hispanic. But is this nickname really a statement of strong immersion into Hispanic culture, or is it a claim to a false identity?

In 2013, O’Rourke tried to join the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), but was not permitted due to lack of Hispanic descent. Christian Ramos, the CHC director at the time, noted that to be in the caucus “we have to be of hispanic descent,” and continued to state that “this is a simple case of the bylaws, and what the bylaws are.”

This self branding may be an attempt to distance himself from his father, Pat O’Rourke, a prominent El Paso politician, who switched parties in the late 80s from Democrat to Republican and gained political success following the switch, but many on the right feel that it is a lame political move to portray a false ethnic identity.

O’Rourke, using every possible tactic for publicity, has flaunted his skateboarding skills across stages at rallies, and a Whataburger. In a recent attempt to compare his youthful soul at 46 years to age to the 47 year old Cruz, he attempted to ‘Dab,’ which was a recently popular move among youth and touchdown celebrations. Following this poor attempt at the move, his campaign staff removed all footage and evidence from the internet.

O’Rourke has made great mention of his youth in Texas and attendance of El Paso High School. However, Mr. O’Rourke also attended and graduated from the traditional all-male high school Woodberry Forest in Madison, Virginia in 1991. In a recent profile on O’Rourke from Texas Monthly by Leann Mueller, O’Rourke said he left home for the Virginia private school to defuse growing tensions between him and his father. He went on to graduate from Columbia University.


While the white Irish Texan O’Rourke nears the election, his voters are under a stern belief that he is of Hispanic descent, but O’Rourke has made no statements about his ethnic background or make-up, and his campaign has done what they can to prevent this dialogue from surfacing around the internet. In March, from his official account, O’Rourke tweeted a photo of himself as a child sporting a sweatshirt with the words “BETO” in big letters

Needless to say, this nickname has served him well. It has failed however to hide the DWI he received in the '90s for which he received deferred adjudication and was not convicted, or the burglary arrest he received at El Paso University in 1995. Not long before these incidents his father had been a sitting judge in the El Paso courts and still had great influence in the city's political scene, and the name O’Rourke may just have saved him from prosecution or even being jailed.

These scars of his past have backfired on Republican leaders as many Twitter users have not commented on the ethics of the DWI, but more the attractiveness of his mugshot. But whereas Beto was able to get off of his DWI charges, Hispanic green card-holding migrants become nearly ineligible for citizenship when committing the same or even lesser offenses.

In August, the Washington Post ran a story detailing the story of the DWI, citing the Houston Chronicle.  In this 1998 incident, O’Rourke was traveling at a high rate of speed down the Texas interstate in an area with a 75 mph speed limit. After losing control of his Volvo, he slammed into a truck, causing his own vehicle to cross the median. Beto subsequently “attempted to leave the scene,” one witness stated. When the police arrived at 3 a.m., O’Rourke failed to pass the .10 legal BAC level, blowing a .136 on the police breathalyzer.


Beto has openly discussed and apologized for this incident in his 20 years since when seeking offices such as City Council and the House of Representatives, but each time failed to mention his drunken attempt to flee the scene. Following the Post’s story the Houston Chronicle removed the story from its website.

O’Rourke stands for many things in Texas but it cannot be ignored that he is a white man who escaped the law thanks to his involved father, while trying to gain the votes of Hispanics with a cheap boyhood nickname.

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