This article is written from a Democratic point of view.
Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press
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Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke just jumped into the race for the Democratic nomination for president, but Republicans already are starting to settle on some strategies to take down the 46-year-old El Paso, Tex., native.
Indeed, the GOP appears to be taking early aim at O’Rourke in a way that the party hasn’t seemed to bother with, in regards to many of the other Democrats in the field.
National Republicans seem to be taking pages right out of the playbook Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) used to defeat O’Rourke in their matchup during the 2018 midterm elections.
First, and foremost, Republicans don’t want to call O’Rourke “Beto.”
Asked to respond to Beto O’Rourke’s nascent candidacy during a segment of Fox News, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley tried to correct anchor Bill Hemmer.
“Well, first of all, you pronounced it wrong. It’s Robert Francis. That’s number one,” Gidley said. “Number two, we don’t care who gets in the race. The fact is the president is going to win reelection.”
Hemmer ultimately replied, “Just to follow on that, you answered that question by calling him Robert Francis. Is that how the president will refer to him?”
“He has called him that before on the campaign trail,” Gidley responded. “And why wouldn’t he? That’s his name.”
Although he speaks fluent Spanish, there has never been any indication that the Caucasian, Irish-American O’Rourke has ever tried to claim any Latino heritage. “Beto” is simply a common nickname for Robert in the El Paso area, and was given to him at an early age by his family.
Still, by trying to define something as basic as O’Rourke’s name, Republicans clearly want to define him and his candidacy on their terms–not his own.
Attempting to remove the “Beto” appellation is a strategy Cruz first invoked during their contest. Cruz actually got called out for doing so, since “Ted” is not his accurate first name, either. It is Rafael.
Cruz turned his beef with the “Beto” moniker into a jingle, and said, “We had some fun with it.”
O’Rourke, himself, said he wasn’t going to worry too much about his name.
“I mean, I think if your opening salvo is to make fun of my first name then, you know, I’ll take that. It’s not even something that I even have to respond to,” he said during the 2018 campaign. “Folks across Texas are responding to that. They are sick of the small stuff and they want us to be big and I’m going to continue to follow the lead of people who ask us do that.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, a conservative Republican from Arkansas, and one of Donald Trump’s staunchest supporters in the Senate, doubled down on criticism of O’Rourke in remarks from the Senate floor.
Cotton referred to O’Rourke in his speech defending Trump’s declared “state of emergency” so as to bypass Congress and build the wall on the southern border that he has called for.
“The Democrats’ newest presidential aspirant, Robert Francis O’Rourke—a former congressman and failed Senate candidate–has even gone so far as to suggest tearing down existing barriers at the southern border, which I’m sure thrilled all the good people of El Paso who don’t live in a world of private planes and security details,” Cotton said.