Former congressman, vanquished Ted Cruz opponent, and present-day presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke has been the subject of a Vanity Fair cover story, an almost-10,000-word profile in the New Yorker, and, now, a two-hour HBO documentary that aired Tuesday night.
It’s the latest installment in the media’s seemingly endless fascination with O’Rourke, even as the briefly beloved Democrat has floundered in fundraising and polling as he sets his sights on the White House in a hugely crowded 2020 field. The documentary, “Running With Beto,” chronicles his surprisingly competitive challenge against Cruz, who ultimately prevailed in the 2018 midterms by just a few percentage points in deep-red Texas.
The run made O’Rourke, for a fleeting moment, the new star of Democratic party, alongside the likes of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the congresswoman from New York who has become a household name and standout voice among progressives. Like Beto’s 2018 campaign, AOC’s bid against powerful Democrat Joe Crowley recently got the Netflix treatment, in the documentary “Knock Down the House.” But unlike Beto, she won. Beto’s story ends on a more bittersweet note.
While it’s still unclear, though ever-more-unlikely, if Beto will win the race he’s waging now, O’Rourke’s camp is hoping that the film will give his ailing campaign a jolt of 2018 midterm nostalgia and a needed boost. If you’re no longer feeling the Betomania (or don’t have an HBO login), we broke down the film’s big takeaways.
Not much Beto 2020
The movie is pretty firmly about Beto’s far-more-popular 2018 campaign than it is about his current presidential ambitions. The film ends, however, with a montage set to Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream” paired with some splashy factoids about O’Rourke’s Senate bid that had some of the biggest fundraising numbers in Senate history.
Towards the film’s end, one Beto volunteer says that the 2018 campaign was merely the beginning.
“This is a simmering fire, this is the bed of coals,” says Shannon Gay. “We’re just getting cooking.”
Beto ran because Trump won
In the film’s first 10 minutes, O’Rourke and his wife, Amy, both say the decision to run came during the 2016 election when Trump stunned the nation by defeating Hillary Clinton.
“‘Someone just won an election by defining us as scared and small and afraid,’” Beto recalls saying to his wife. “‘What are we going to do?’ And out of that conversation came the idea, ‘What if we run for senate?’”
“What can we do as a couple to try to change this dialogue at the national level?” asks Amy. “When you have an opponent like Cruz, it seems like an easy answer.”
Beto says fucking swear words
Beto famously told his supporters that he was so “fucking proud” of them during his concession speech in 2018. And he curses a lot in “Running With Beto,” especially while driving (something else he does a lot of on film).
“I can’t fucking pay attention.”
“Kinda fucked me up a little bit.”
“There’s so much fucking money that runs Washington, D.C.”
And, in a standout moment, Beto calls himself an asshole.
“I know I was a giant asshole to be around sometimes, and you all never allowed my shortcomings to get in the way of running the best campaign this state has ever seen,” he says to his volunteers, after losing.
Beto’s kids miss him
Beto’s kids are sad that Dad is gone, and that they have to stay at Meemaw’s instead of Papa’s while their mom hits the campaign trail. Beto is sad that he can’t play baseball with his son. The kids eat quesadillas after Beto loses; meanwhile, their father eats toast.
Beto’s volunteers are sleeper protagonists
The documentary spends a lot of time focusing on Beto’s volunteers, as well as his communications director Chris Evans, who is always on-hand to man the camera for Beto’s Facebook Live streams on his tour of all of Texas’ 254 counties.
The documentary also spotlights volunteers like Gay, a gun-loving Beto fan who was drawn to the Texas politician because of his views on veteran care. Another Beto volunteer, Amanda Elise Salas, wasn’t even a Democrat until she fell for one during the 2016 election.
“It wasn’t until Bernie,” Salas says while canvassing for Beto in the film. “Bernie is who I switched parties for.”
Beto loves punk
It’s pretty well-known that Beto loves punk — he even made VICE News’ Daniel Newhauser a playlist back in 2015 — so, of course, the punk-rock congressman had to talk about his affection for the musical genre. After being heckled at a rally for being in a punk band, Beto talks about how punk strips “rock and roll back down to its roots” and takes it “away from corporations,” which he likens to what he wants to do to Washington as a politician.
He also talks about his first punk show in El Paso back when he was still a teenager. There are lots of pictures of Young Beto, who has a ponytail. His sister, who never seemed to understand his predilection for punk, ponders how Beto was able to play guitar while “jumping so high.”
Like Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the new Democratic It Boy who professed his love for James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” Beto occasionally reads books your high school teacher probably assigned you. In the film, he’s reading Homer’s “The Iliad” for leisure.
Ted Cruz got scared
The movie starts with Cruz dismissing Beto’s run. He says that no “Kennedyesque” Democrat could ever win in Texas. Cruz gets a bit antsier once Beto starts to get starpower on his side.
When Beto goes viral for a speech about Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem at NFL, Cruz uses the widely lauded speech to attack Beto. Cruz singles out the attention from celebrities that Beto’s speech got him.
“Most Texans stand for the flag, but Hollywood liberals are so excited that Beto is siding with NFL players protesting the national anthem that Kevin Bacon just retweeted it,” Cruz says in the ad, for one example.
It’s a talking point Cruz returns to more than once. The Republican senator, at one point, worries that Beto will force Texans to eat tofu.
“They want us to be just like California right down to tofu and silicon and dyed hair,” Cruz says at a rally.
Cover: In this April 27, 2019, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke speaks at a Service Employees International Union forum on labor issues in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)