If there’s anything that the Democrats and Republicans are good at in our nation’s capital, it is the zero sum game that is sometimes referred to as the false equivalency. That currently is playing out to the disadvantage of Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Beto O’Rourke as Republicans try to level the playing field in the news media criticisms of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Kavanaugh has faced allegations that he drunkenly sexually assaulted women in high school and college and that he lied during sworn Senate Judiciary Committee testimony about how much he drank, which prompted further questions about a barroom brawl that he allegedly instigated. “I consider you a part of the Democrat Party,” Trump told journalists gathered at the White House on Monday. So, how do Republicans who believe Trump get the national news media to even the score? By thrashing a Democrat for trouble in youth, and O’Rourke had a youth easily thrashed and who is perceived by many Republicans to be a darling of the national media in his challenge to incumbent U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.
O’Rourke has confirmed and apologized for a pair of arrests that occurred in El Paso when he was young, including a drunk driving arrest in 1998 when he was 26 years old. But the DWI drew increased scrutiny after the Houston Chronicle published police reports from the incident. The accident was not a simple DWI. He hit another vehicle and crossed the median into oncoming traffic. Although it was late and few vehicles were on the road, the accident easily could have resulted in bodily injury to other drivers. There also was an unnamed witness who told police that O’Rourke tried to leave the scene of the accident. Most Texas newspapers followed up on the Chronicle story with stories on the police reports.
During O’Rourke’s first debate with Cruz on September 22, O’Rourke flatly denied any attempt to leave the scene of the accident and apologized for what he called a mistake of youth. A fact-check by The Washington Post declared that O’Rourke had lied when he said he did not try to flee the scene of the drunk driving accident. The O’Rourke drunk driving story started gaining traction as the national news media dug into Kavanaugh’s past to prove or disprove the sexual assault allegations against him. After the Post story on O’Rourke appeared, the conservative National Review questioned why O’Rourke would not get the same scrutiny from the news media that Kavanaugh received, setting up an argument for Republican supporters that the news media has been in the tank for O’Rourke.
Up until now, O’Rourke has been adamant in his campaign to say he is not campaigning against anyone—President Trump or Cruz. But Cruz and his Republican allies have been portraying O’Rourke as misleading his supporters to believe he is a different kind of politician. The DWI story has played right into the Republican jiu-jitsu of using O’Rourke’s strengths against him.
When The Washington Post gives one of their liberal heroes 4 Pinocchios about his hit and run DUI you know he’s full of it. https://t.co/XakaPk0TIp
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) September 25, 2018
And this may be played out further this week as the president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., is scheduled to campaign with Cruz on Wednesday in Texas.
O’Rourke attempted to lay the story to rest during an interview with Evan Smith at the Texas Tribune festival last weekend. “The police report on this count is wrong,” O’Rourke said. To back up his story, O’Rourke said he contacted a woman who was his passenger. “She said, ‘No, we were in the median of the road. We did not try to flee. I don’t know that there was anywhere we could have gone.’” However, O’Rourke refused to name the woman, raising even more questions about the arrest.
Then this Monday, Politico reported on a review O’Rourke wrote in 1991 for the Columbia University student newspaper on the musical the “The Will Rogers Follies.” The article was insulting to both women and elderly people. O’Rourke found the musical disgusting, and in a line that was intended to disparage the show for sexualizing women, he wrote that the musical was filled with actresses “whose only qualifications seem to be their phenomenally large breasts and tight buttocks.” O’Rourke apologized to the Politico reporter when confronted with his old writings, “I am ashamed of what I wrote and I apologize. There is no excuse for making disrespectful and demeaning comments about women.”
This is the kind of thing the Republicans aren’t going to let go so long as they have to even out the coverage on Kavanaugh. Just look at this tweet from President George W. Bush’s first press secretary.
This will be a one-day story, because Beto is a Democrat. If a Republican wrote this in college, women’s groups would protest and the press wouldn’t let it go. That’s just how it works. It’s a double standard. https://t.co/BdeVBtZmPc
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) October 1, 2018
Personally, the questions about O’Rourke’s truthfulness surrounding the drunk driving arrest are meaningful. That he used sexist language to complain about sexism in a musical seems more like irony than controversy. I imagine O’Rourke’s female supporters will let is slide while those who oppose him will take it as one more reason not to support him. But so long as the Kavanaugh controversy is raging, if there is another O’Rourke youthful indiscretion shoe to drop, listen for it to hit the floor, probably first in the District of Columbia.