O’Rourke’s strategy: Show Americans the real Beto

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Beto O’Rourke wants to show his fans and potential supporters the real Beto. 

O’Rourke has taken his supporters along with him to a trip to the dentist for a routine clearning, shared diary-like entries about his life and talked of being in a “funk” after leaving his job as a Texas congressman.

It’s a new strategy: Connect with voters by providing minute-to-minute glimpses of daily life, and show authenticity in the process.

{mosads}And it appears to fit neatly into the Twitter and Instagram era.

Politicians as different as President Trump and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — or AOC to her 2 million Twitter followers — take to that platform in a moment’s notice to speak directly and unabashedly to constituents. 

Seemingly mundane Instagram posts of mac n’ cheese dinners or nights out are becoming more and more common in politics — just as the political world seems to be crashing into the worlds of entertainment and celebrity.

“People want to see who you really are and what you’re actually thinking, doing, and eating. In the same way that people now expect this level of ‘access’ to the lives of movie starts and athletes they expect it from their politicians too,” said Eddie Vale, a Democratic strategist and partner at New Paradigm Strategy Group. 

He credits O’Rourke, a rising star seem as a real threat by other Democrats to win the party’s nomination, for his social media acumen.

“Beto has taken this to a more intense and personal level than most others have, and it has worked for him, so I’m sure he will keep doing it,” he said. 

The authenticity strategy can backfire.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in a live Instagram video from her kitchen on New Year’s Eve said “Hold on a sec, I’m gonna get me a beer.” It was a moment some mocked as inauthentic and forced. 

“Before anyone jumps to copy Beto’s drive-through lines, or AOC’s insta cooking and politics lessons, what matters most is authenticity,” Vale said. “These tactics work for them because it’s who they are and how they normally act and live. Other candidates can’t just copy what they do but have to have a medium and a message that is authentic to them.” 

Such moments are hardly new — nor are the potential for disasters.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton sought to talk to voters by going on a road trip in a “Scooby van” and stopping at Chipotle along the way. It’s something people still bring up on Twitter to make fun of. 

Former President Obama has had numerous memorable moments on social media where he connected with supporters and seemed to offer a glimpse of what life with Obama is like. 

But in 2008, when he went bowling and threw a gutter ball, it was more of a moment to forget. 

More recently and with more favorable results, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) released a list of mood music, with songs including Beyonce’s “Lemonade” and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It.” 

Harris is expected to join the presidential race soon.

Ocasio-Cortez — who is 29 and has been a congresswoman for a little more than two weeks — might be the best politician working on social media right now. 

On Thursday, she hosted a Twitter training session for her colleagues and offered up some pointers on connecting with voters. 

“If you don’t know what a meme is, don’t post a meme,” Ocasio-Cortez advised lawmakers during the session, according to ABC News. “If you’re an older woman, talk like an older woman talks.” 

“The top tip, I think, is really to be yourself and to really write your own tweets so that people know it’s you talking,” she said. 

More than half a dozen strategists who spoke to The Hill for this story said they though O’Rourke was more or less coming across well with his social media forays, even if at times it may seem like he’s oversharing. 

Earlier this week, he went to a place few other would-be candidates have gone: Instead of speaking in glowing terms about his life, he acknowledged that he’s been “stuck” lately. 

“In and out of a funk,” the former congressman wrote in a Medium post that read more like a personal journal of a struggling unemployed adult. 

“Maybe if I get moving, on the road, meet people, learn about what’s going on where they live, have some adventure, go where I don’t know and I’m not known, it’ll clear my head,” he said.

Chris Lehane, a longtime strategist who worked in the Clinton White House, said the entry was effective because “it shows he’s human.” 

“That post in and of itself make himself not look like a politician and that’s what people want,” Lehane said.

In previous posts, O’Rourke documented his solo cross-country road trip. 

He ate blueberry cobbler at a stop along Route 66, and asked a waitress what he should see in Tucumcari, N.M. 

He also shared that he been able to get his first run in in more than a month. 

“My leg has really been bothering me since the campaign so I had stopped running for a while,” he said. “Felt good, running in new shoes.” 

And there was the visit to the dentist, which included images of his wide-open mouth for the broader world — and not just his dental hygienist — to see.  

Patti Solis Doyle, who served as Clinton’s campaign manager during her 2008 campaign, said while the teeth cleaning “jumped the shark a bit,” O’Rourke “certainly has resonated with voters across the country.”

But O’Rourke’s authenticity might only take him so far, observers say. 

Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, said while O’Rourke is “doing a good job of being relatable and accessible…voters will evaluate whether or not those qualities are congruous with his policy positions and votes taken.” 

“It can backfire on Beto if in an attempt to be too casual and relatable he projects an air of privilege or fails to connect his experiences to sound policies that impact average voters,” Smikle said. 

Another strategist who may work on a presidential campaign took it a step further: “You can be the most authentic person in the world but if you don’t have the policy chops to back that up, you’re going to run into some big problems.” 


Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Beto O'Rourke Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Instagram Social media Twitter
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