by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Celebrating defeat is unusual for a politician, and doing so makes O’Rourke notably different from the rest of the unwieldy field of Democrats running for president. In contrast to the 20 or so other 2020 candidates—all of them in various ways overachievers who tout the litanies of their successes—O’Rourke instead presents his loss to Cruz as a prominent selling point. More than his ownership of a small business. More than his six years on the city council in his native El Paso. More than his next six years as a back-bench House member in Congress. His near-miss against a prominent Republican in a red state was such a high-quality failure, so epically heroic, he seems to suggest, that it should be considered something of a victory. And he’s not wrong to do it. His failed Senate bid, after all, is singularly what made him famous, what got him an interview with Oprah, what put him on the cover of Vanity Fair—and what’s put him in the top handful of aspirants angling for a shot to topple President Donald Trump.
But while it might be his most spotlit miss, it’s not an aberration.
There’s a reason his biography doesn’t feature much in the campaign. For O’Rourke, the phenomenon on display in that race—failure without negative effects, and with perhaps even some kind of personal boost—is a feature of his life and career. That biography is marked as much by meandering, missteps and moments of melancholic searching as by résumé-boosting victories and honors.