O’Rourke, a former Democratic congressman from Texas, declared his candidacy on Thursday morning in a video alongside his wife, Amy Hoover Sanders. Although he lost to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in a tight race in November, his near-win launched the 46-year-old politician onto the national stage and brought many devoted followers.
Some argued that only a man would be able to lose such a highly publicized race and then run for president.
“Beto O’Rourke lost, but he’s running for president. Bernie Sanders lost, but he’s running for president,” Twitter user Emilia wrote. “But Hillary Clinton shouldn’t even show her face in the world of politics again. Sexism and double standards, my friends.”
Others took note of the dynamic between O’Rourke and his wife in his announcement video. The clip, while energizing, featured him speaking while Hoover Sanders silently smiled at her husband.
“I am so sick of wives being forced to silently gaze!!! Why even include her?” The Wing co-founder Audrey Gelman tweeted.
Twitter user Anne Walker noticed the same awkward issue, tweeting: “During which his wife sits there, looks on adoringly & is NEVER ACKNOWLEDGED. If the roles were reversed, men would be up in arms about a woman’s accessory puppet husband.”
Most critics noted they don’t necessarily dislike O’Rourke, but they were disappointed in the portrayal of him versus other very well-qualified female contenders, most of whom have been involved in national politics much longer, including Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
CNN political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson was one of the first to point out the subtle sexism and racism inherent in the initial burst of positive coverage of O’Rourke’s candidacy.
“Jack Kerouac-style, he roams around, jobless (does he not need a job?) to find himself and figure out if he wants to lead the free world. This is a luxury no woman or even minority in politics could ever have,” Henderson wrote on Thursday.
“But O’Rourke, tall, handsome, white and male, has this latitude, to be and do anything,” she continued. “His privilege even allows him to turn a loss to the most despised candidate of the cycle into a launching pad for a White House run.”
The criticism was fueled by a comment O’Rourke made during his first campaign stop in Keokuk, Iowa, on Thursday.
“I just got a call from my wife, Amy, who is back in El Paso, Texas, where she is raising ― sometimes with my help ― Ulysses, who is 12, Molly, who is 10, and their little brother Henry, who is 8 years old,” he reportedly said Thursday.
Some people were not pleased with how casually he referred to his relative absence from his kids’ lives and the responsibility he left to his wife.
“Imagine Gillibrand saying this about her kids and still having a viable campaign,” Marie Claire editor Chloe Angyal tweeted.
A Vanity Fair interview with O’Rourke, published just a day before his announcement, offered more evidence that he was already being treated differently than current and past female candidates. The front page spread shows a laidback O’Rourke outside with his dog with this quote from him: “Man, I’m just born to be in it.”
“I’m imagining Hillary Clinton giving the same quote and wondering about the reaction,” NBC News correspondent Kasie Hunt tweeted.
Writer Erin Gloria Ryan contrasted Vanity Fair’s boosterish headline for the O’Rourke profile with its skeptical headline on a Warren story. “Beto O’Rourke: ‘I’m Just Born To Do This’” stands in stark contrast to “‘She Has A Moralizing To Her’: Is Elizabeth Warren Actually ‘Unlikeable’?”
“2 candidates, same mag. 1 is a 2nd term senator with detailed policy proposals that have driven the substantive side of the 2020 primary conversation, the other just lost a Senate race to a guy everybody hates,” Ryan wrote. “What else is different about them?? Hm gonna need a thinking cap.”
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