“Donald Trump, who talked about Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals, who said that Klansmen and neo-Nazis and white supremacists were very fine people, who promised to ban all Muslim travel to the United States of America…there are real consequences to that,” O’Rourke said, when a boy in the audience in a coffee shop in Madison asked whether he could “be nice.”
“You don’t see the spike in hate crimes three years in a row and counting without the kind of permission that has been provided by this president,” O’Rourke said.
A former three-term U.S. congressman from Texas, O’Rourke became a celebrity last year when his longshot bid to unseat U.S. Senator Ted Cruz drew national attention and a torrent of money. But ultimately, his fame was not enough and he lost, leading some critics to wonder why someone who couldn’t secure a Senate seat would then think he should run for president.
In Madison, O’Rourke, 46, told the audience his campaign for president would be modeled on the tour he made as a member of a punk rock band who crossed the country in a Plymouth station wagon, stopping for gigs along the way.
“There’s something about the way in which we traveled, the do-it-yourself spirit of that punk rock adventure and tour across the country and the way in which we want to run this campaign and listen to and serve everyone and show up everywhere,” he said.
Now campaigning in a minivan, O’Rourke has fashioned himself as a scrappy underdog who can appeal to a modern electorate. But as a wealthy, white man from a conservative-leaning state who is more moderate on several key issues than many of his competitors, he would appear to be everything that many in party say they do not want.
More than a dozen Democrats have declared their candidacy to take on Trump in next year’s election, including six women. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California would make history as the first black woman to gain the nomination. Julian Castro, a former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, would be the first Hispanic to do so. Another contender, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is openly gay.
O’Rourke also must grapple with the enduring popularity of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a progressive who remains a formidable adversary after battling Hillary Clinton in 2016, and former Vice President Joe Biden, who is weighing a presidential bid.
(Production: Katharine Jackson)