RNC tweet links O’Rourke’s her­itage to 1998 DWI ar­rest

The Buffalo News - - WASHINGTON NEWS - By Feli­cia Son­mez

The Repub­li­can National Com­mit­tee on Sun­day sent out a tweet link­ing Demo­cratic 2020 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Beto O’Rourke’s Ir­ish her­itage to his 1998 drunken-driv­ing ar­rest, in an at­tack that Democrats and some Repub­li­cans crit­i­cized as be­ing based on stereo­types.

Repub­li­cans have pre­vi­ously sought to fo­cus at­ten­tion on O’Rourke’s DWI ar­rest, but the tweet by the RNC – which came on St. Pa­trick’s Day and de­scribed O’Rourke as a “noted Ir­ish­man” – ap­peared to be the first time they have raised the topic of his an­ces­try.

“On this St. Paddy’s Day, a spe­cial mes­sage from noted Ir­ish­man Robert Fran­cis O’Rourke,” the tweet states. It in­cludes O’Rourke’s 1998 mug shot with a lep­rechaun hat on top, along with the mes­sage, “Please drink re­spon­si­bly.”

Nei­ther the RNC nor an O’Rourke campaign spokesman im­me­di­ately re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment.

The tweet quickly trig­gered a back­lash, with some Repub­li­cans join­ing Democrats in con­demn­ing the mes­sage.

“Do bet­ter, @GOP,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash, a lib­er­tar­ian-lean­ing Repub­li­can from Michi­gan who is of­ten at odds with his party. “Be bet­ter.”

Doug Stafford, a top aide to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., also de­nounced the tweet, writ­ing, “If you think you’re funny or clever by stereo­typ­ing and mak­ing fun of any race or na­tion­al­ity to score po­lit­i­cal points, you’re an id­iot, and you should prob­a­bly not tweet.”

John Weaver, a Repub­li­can strate­gist who worked on the 2016 pres­i­den­tial campaign of Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich, a Repub­li­can, called the tweet “vile” and “in­dica­tive of the bot­tom feed­ing” Repub­li­can Party led by Pres­i­dent Trump and RNC Chair­woman Ronna Mc­Daniel.

“With Ir­ish fam­ily mem­bers, as an Amer­i­can and a world ci­ti­zen, this is an at­tack on all races,” he said.

Robert Sch­muhl, pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Amer­i­can stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Notre Dame, said the tweet ap­peared to be an ef­fort by the RNC “to try to neu­tral­ize the charisma of O’Rourke by us­ing his for­mal name and Ir­ish stereo­types.”

“There’s a long, tor­tured her­itage, if you look at the way the Ir­ish were de­picted in the 19th cen­tury, in news­pa­pers. There, you had de­pic­tions of them as rum-lov­ing in­di­vid­u­als who were cre­at­ing havoc in Amer­ica. To a cer­tain ex­tent, the mes­sage about O’Rourke draws on that ques­tion­able past,” said Sch­muhl, who is the au­thor of the forth­com­ing book “The Glory and the Bur­den: The Amer­i­can Pres­i­dency from FDR to Trump.”

Sch­muhl said the tweet, com­bined with Trump’s fre­quent use of the de­ri­sive nick­name “Poc­a­hon­tas” for Sen. Elizabeth War­ren, D-Mass., raises ques­tions about how the Repub­li­can Party is ap­proach­ing its mes­sag­ing against 2020 con­tenders more broadly.

“Is the party en­gag­ing in the use of stereo­types to wound po­ten­tial op­po­nents?” he asked.

Even be­fore an­nounc­ing his 2020 White House bid on Thurs­day, O’Rourke, a for­mer con­gress­man who nar­rowly lost last year in his bid to un­seat Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, had drawn con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion from across the aisle: The day be­fore his campaign launch, the con­ser­va­tive Club for Growth re­leased an ad fo­cus­ing on O’Rourke’s fam­ily wealth and ac­cus­ing him of be­ing “en­ti­tled.”

Trump re­sponded Thurs­day to O’Rourke’s an­nounce­ment by pok­ing fun at his body lan­guage. “I think he’s got a lot of hand move­ment,” the pres­i­dent told re­porters at the White House. “I said, ‘Is he crazy, or is that just the way he acts?’ ”

O’Rourke has called his DWI “a se­ri­ous mis­take for which there is no ex­cuse.” His ar­rest has long been pub­licly known, but re­ports sur­faced last sum­mer sug­gest­ing that the episode was more se­ri­ous than pre­vi­ously de­tailed.

The state and lo­cal po­lice re­ports said O’Rourke, then 26, was driv­ing drunk at what a wit­ness called “a high rate of speed” in a 75 mph zone of an in­ter­state when he lost con­trol of his Volvo and hit a truck.

O’Rourke “at­tempted to leave the scene,” ac­cord­ing to a wit­ness, and was ar­rested and charged with DWI. He later com­pleted a court-ap­proved di­ver­sion pro­gram, and the charges were dis­missed.

O’Rourke was also ar­rested in 1995 for tres­pass­ing after he sneaked past a fence at the Univer­sity of Texas at El Paso. The charges were dropped.

O’Rourke brought up both ar­rests dur­ing a Satur­day campaign stop in Mil­wau­kee, where he talked with a di­verse group of Demo­cratic women who are think­ing about run­ning for of­fice. He said such mis­takes should not hold peo­ple back from run­ning for of­fice, as long as they own up to them.

He also ac­knowl­edged that “as a white man,” those ar­rests did not de­rail his life, as of­ten hap­pens to peo­ple of color – a sen­ti­ment that prompted many women in the room to snap their fin­gers in agree­ment.

“There’s never go­ing to be a per­fect can­di­date or a per­fect set of con­di­tions or a per­fect time. … Don’t let a mis­take or some­thing that doesn’t seem to fit the pro­file of that per­fect can­di­date stop you from run­ning. This democ­racy needs more, not fewer, of us run­ning for of­fice,” O’Rourke said.

He later told re­porters that vot­ers want to fo­cus on “the big pic­ture, on our goals” and not on “petty at­tacks.”

New York Times

Dan Cald­well, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for Con­cerned Vet­er­ans for Amer­ica, left, and Jon Soltz, chair­man of VoteVets, share an agenda that presses for changes to war au­tho­riza­tion mea­sures and an end to the U.S. pres­ence in Afghanistan.

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