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Collapse: What Beto and Kamala Share In Their Failed Presidential Bids

AP Photo/John Bazemore

Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (yeah, remember him) and Sen. Kamala Harris are out. They’re gone. Poof. Beto, whose real name is Robert Francis O’Rourke, was never going to be a contender. Yeah, he has charisma. There was enthusiasm for his candidacy, I guess, but it’s utterly worthless if you cannot mobilize your people. The same goes for a campaign that doesn't know what it's offering to voters. That’s the element that both the Harris and O’Rourke campaigns share concerning their demise. They were both operations that walked around with their heads chopped off. Beto tried to use his social media prowess, but that can only take you so far. Yes, Trump has a social media presence, but he had a popular agenda. He also won his party’s nomination. Talking about confiscating guns and speaking Spanglish on the debate stage isn’t clever. It’s idiotic and pandering. Very soon, no one takes you seriously, which is exactly what happened. O’Rourke and Harris raised millions in their pursuit of the White House. If you want the political equivalent of an NFL draft bust, well, here are your top contenders this cycle.

For Harris, up until she dropped out today, she had no real, concrete 2020 agenda. All we knew about her is that she was a proud liberal, one of the few black Senators on the Hill, and was unabashedly anti-Trump. Harris was against everything Trump stood for—ok? So, what’s your plan, lady? It’s not enough to be the anti-Trump candidate. Those types of candidacies have never been successful in recent cycles. Romney was the anti-Obama. John Kerry was the anti-Bush. What do both of these men share? They were both defeated in their presidential contests.

POLITICO covered both of these trainwrecks. With Bob, it noted that despite raising millions, his inability to get off the ground, or as they put it—get his s**t together—cost him dearly. He also eschewed talking to the press. The publication noted that his aversion to talking to the media did well in characterizing him as a lightweight. He didn’t like preparing for debates, and his inability to effectively counter Julian Castro’s attacks on the debate stage further made him look like he was a dude ahead of his skis:

it was everything he didn’t do — rendering him an object lesson in the familiar limits of charisma, the liability of high expectations and the importance of organization.

Or, as O’Rourke might say, of having one’s “shit” together.

For too long — and irreparably — he did not.

While other candidates were assembling campaign staffs and volunteer armies in early nominating states, O’Rourke lacked the infrastructure necessary to organize his own supporters. Lawmakers and major Democratic donors could not get calls returned. When the campaign’s skeletal staff promised to reach out, it sometimes forgot.

The signs of disorder were startling. He announced his candidacy before hiring a campaign manager. Two senior officials who had worked on O’Rourke’s Senate run and on Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, Becky Bond and Zack Malitz, abruptly left. On the eve of his campaign announcement, O’Rourke was forced to personally apologize to at least one prominent Iowa Democrat for his lack of organization, according to a source familiar with the conversation.

O’Rourke’s initial handling of the media was just as clumsy. He alienated reporters by refusing to provide basic information about his schedule — including, for many outlets, the location of his campaign’s first public event. He later acknowledged he needed to do a “better job” reaching a national audience.

But at first, he believed he didn’t have to — that based on the success of his Senate campaign’s social media effort, he could largely bypass the traditional press, two people familiar with the campaign said.

It was a miscalculation, and O’Rourke was punished for it. When he hesitated or demurred — as he did frequently on policy questions early in the campaign — he was cast as a lightweight in a field populated by senators and a former vice president.

Yes, eventually Bob got his act together, his campaign manager got infrastructure set in place, but the ship had sailed. The money was drying up. The declaration that he would confiscate AR-15 rifles was the last gasp of a dying campaign, but it did buy him a few extra weeks of media attention and political oxygen. But that was the last air bubble on this sinking ship. Bob 2020 is now dead.

Now, Harris finally decided to call it quits, saying that because she isn’t a billionaire, she couldn’t self-fund her campaign. And yet, some of her top donors were…billionaires. Yet, while Bob couldn’t get his campaign infrastructure built in a timely manner, Harris might have had a better one, though with nothing to sell voters in terms of a vision. You can only go so far being the feisty California liberal that hates Trump. Tales of mayhem, disorganization, and staff being mistreated circled before Harris decided to pull the plug on her campaign. With no plan or agenda, you’re not going to go very far in any election, whether that be for dog catcher or president. The crackup was seen weeks ago, with POLITICO noting the mass layoffs and internal strife that was pervasive in the Harris operation:

As the California senator crisscrosses the country trying to revive her sputtering presidential bid, aides at her fast-shrinking headquarters are deep into the finger-pointing stages. And much of the blame is being placed on campaign manager Juan Rodriguez.

After Rodriguez announced dozens of layoffs and re-deployments in late October to stem overspending, three more staffers at headquarters here were let go and another quit in recent days, aides told POLITICO. Officials said they’ve become increasingly frustrated at the campaign chief’s lack of clarity about what changes have been made to right the ship and his plans to turn the situation around. They hold Rodriguez responsible for questionable budget decisions, including continuing to bring on new hires shortly before the layoffs began. 

“It’s a campaign of id,” said one senior Harris official, laying much of the blame on Rodriguez, but also pointing to a leaderless structure at the top that’s been allowed to flail without accountability. “What feels right, what impulse you have right now, what emotion, what frustration,” the official added. The person described the current state of the campaign in blunt terms: “No discipline. No plan. No strategy.” 

This account is based on interviews with more than a dozen current and former staffers as well as others close to the campaign, including donors. The sources were granted anonymity to speak freely about the turmoil within the organization and protect them from repercussions.

And when you have no plan, no strategy—treating your staff like dirt probably isn’t a good idea either. In her November 11 resignation letter, Harris campaign aide Kelly Mehlenbacher wrote, “This is my third presidential campaign and I have never seen an organization treat its staff so poorly."

Talk about a brutal assessment in the final weeks of a dying campaign. Harris had one solid debate performance, which catapulted her to the top of the heap, but she could never break free. Looking back to past debates, it would seem that Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) delivered the mortal wound when she brought up Harris’s aggressive prosecutor record, where it would seem she didn’t meet one pot smoker that she didn’t want to throw in jail. With criminal justice reform becoming a more salient issue on the Left, this isn’t a record that Harris wanted to float—and by the look on her face, you knew she didn’t want that aired out. Oh, and did we forget to mention that Trump has been, you know, actually doing stuff on this front as well, but ‘orange man, bad'?

Harris was considered a top-tier candidate, but without any organization, a message, or a functioning campaign apparatus—this ride quickly went off the rails. The same goes for white guy Bob.


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