Stunning new data on radical Republican policies shows how the richest workers got a lot richer under Trump's rule
Donald Trump's presidency and the Covid pandemic combined to make 2020 a remarkably enriching year for the highest-paid workers in America. Meanwhile, the numbers for the bottom 99.9% are, in a word, awful.
Just one in 900 workers makes $1 million or more, a new Social Security report on wages shows. My annual analysis of this data shows that this thin and rich group made 14% more money in 2020 than in 2019.
On average, the pretax pay of the $1 million-and-up workers increased by $305,600. That's after adjusting for inflation.
The share of all pay going to $1 million-and-up workers grew by a fourth during Trump's four years.
The other 99.9% of American workers got an average raise of just $76 each. But even that overstates how badly most workers did. That's because most of this minuscule pay increase went to the 1/10th of workers making $100,000 to $1 million. The bottom 88%, those making less than $100,000, got next to nothing.
The standard measure for worker pay is the median. It illustrates the typical pay situation because at the median, half of workers make more while half make less. Median pay in 2020 rose by a mere $26.
What a Surprise!
Put another way, for each $1 of increased pay going to the typical worker, each worker in the two-comma club collected $11,750.
Suppose $26 is the height of the heel of a shoe worn by a man standing on Fifth Avenue outside Trump Tower. The heel is 1 inch. The height for the highest-paid workers' pay would soar 315 feet above that 58-story highrise, for a total of 908 feet. That's a lot of heels. Plus one.
Trump has a policy: One for you, thousands for the rich; another for you, thousands more for the rich…
And don't forget, Trump's 2017 tax law gave the most highly paid workers a roughly 4% federal income-tax cut. Also, those workers tend to be the Americans with significant stock portfolios and Trump gave corporations a 40% tax-rate cut. So, they got a two-fer.
Crumbs for the Rest
You didn't get anything like either of those income-tax cuts. You got crumbs in tax savings plus the burden of $2 trillion in federal debt to pay for the Trump/Radical Republican tax cuts.
Indeed, if you live in the states with most of the high-paying jobs – California, Connecticut, New York, Maryland and the like – Trump and congressional Republicans increased federal incomes for millions of people. That's because Trump and the Radical Republicans took away your deductions for state and local income and property taxes and mortgage interest. The number of Americans who itemize deductions, including charitable gifts, fell by three-fourths after Trump's tax cuts for the rich and the companies they own became law.
More pay going to workers at the top is a long-term trend that began long before Trump. What's significant in the newest data is how much that trend accelerated during the Trump years.
In 2016, just 143 workers made $50 million or more. That number jumped 50% in Trump's first year as president and stayed at that level in 2018 and 2019. But in 2020, Trump's last year as president, the number of workers paid $50 million and up soared to 358, 1.5 times as much as under Barack Obama.
Monthly gross paychecks for those 358 highest-paid workers averaged close to $8 million each. A worker at the median pay would have to labor for more than 225 years to get paid what these workers made in a month.
More for the Top
Even more significant, the share of all pay going to $1 million-and-up workers grew by a fourth during Trump's four years.
Their collective pay rose to 5.2% of all worker compensation, up from 4.2% of total compensation in 2016 under Obama. That means most workers got a thinner slice of the American wage pie under Trump, the opposite of MAGA pledges to improve most incomes and just as I predicted back in 2015 and 2016.
The median worker in 2020 made just $34,612, or less than $3,000 a month before taxes. During Trump's four years, inflation-adjusted median income rose by 5%.
By far the biggest increase in median pay in this century occurred in 2014 under Obama when Social Security data show an increase of 3.44% over 2013.
The average pay for all workers was $53,383.18, or less than $4,500 per month.
More than two-thirds of workers made less than the average. The average is higher than the median because all those very highly paid workers skew the average upward.
One more awful fact: The number of Americans with any work fell in 2020 by more than 1 percentage point. In 2020, more than 1.7 million fewer people found any paid work than in 2019. That's the first time this has happened in all of Trump's life.
While Trump at his inaugural promised that every act he took would be for the benefit of the "forgotten men and women" of America, it was all just another con.
His actions, again and again, favored the highly paid, the already rich and, not least of all, the Trump-Kushner family.
Expert: We know less than you think about the lives of Buddha, Abraham, Jesus, Muhammed and most other religious 'founders'
We know less than you might think about the lives of Buddha, Abraham, Jesus, Muhammed, and most other religious "founders."
Author David Fitzgerald is a history buff whose primary fascination is the early history of religion. When he researched the origins of Christianity, he was astounded to discover how little evidence we have about Jesus as a historical person. The least fantastical stories about the life of Jesus are found in the four New Testament gospels, but the four gospels that made it into the New Testament—and others that did not—were written generations after any historical Jesus rabbi would have lived. They contradict each other and contain miraculous events that in any other context we would simply call magic, mythology, or fairy tales. These events echo "tropes" that were common in the folklore of the region, like the idea of a woman impregnated by a god, or talking animals, or transmutation (one substance turning into another), or magical healings, or a person returning from the dead, or being/becoming a deity.
The historical record is so frayed, and so stitched together with obvious myth and legend, that Fitzgerald began wondering whether the man, Jesus, had ever actually existed. He soon discovered he was not alone. Were the stories about Jesus mythologized history (meaning that stories of a real person had mythic elements added over time—like Davie Crockett killing a bear when he was only three)? Or were they historicized mythology (meaning that legends of a mythic personage had historical details added as the stories were retold)? Ancient writings offer us plenty of both. Alexander the Great performed miracles. The three wise men of the Christmas story received names and biographies during the Middle Ages.
For generations now, academic Bible scholars have been gradually transferring bits of the gospel stories out of the History bucket and into the Mythology bucket. As inquiry tools have become more advanced, what we "know" about any historical Jesus has shrunk. The vast majority of relevant experts do think that a real person lies at the heart of the stories. If you want to understand why, read or listen to New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman or James McGrath. But either way, we can be confident that biblical portraits of Jesus offer little clarity about whoever he may have been. The form of the gospels, their contents, internal contradictions and most likely dates of writing suggest that they are largely the stuff of legend.
That's OK says Fitzgerald. As several scholars have pointed out, we don't need to know who Jesus was or even whether he existed in order to explain the emergence of Christianity. There are, as it turns out, patterns in how religions emerge, whether or not the iconic founder was a single flesh-and-blood person. These patterns have to do with cultural and technological evolution, which will be highlighted in Part 2 of this series.
But one key piece of the pattern is this: Most major religions have founders who are wrapped in layers and layers of obvious mythology—to the point that little of interest remains when the myths are peeled away. Christianity is far from unique when it comes to sketchy evidence about an ostensible founder who is now heralded as a prophet, god or demi-god. For centuries—or even millennia—religious teachings have pointed to great individuals, prophets, demi-gods, or supernatural beings as the source of divine revelation. But looking closely at these claims can be rather like holding cotton candy in the rain.
As Fitzgerald began to write and speak publicly about his doubts regarding Jesus, he was surprised to be contacted by Buddhists and former Muslims who informed him that they were having similar debates in their respective circles—arguments over whether the Buddha, Prince Siddhartha Gautama, or the Prophet Muhammad, actually existed! As with Jesus, the vast majority of relevant experts assume that the stories of Muhammad are rooted in a real person. But even assuming these larger-than-life figures did once exist in the flesh, we know remarkably little about their lives or any direct roles they (rather than their legends) may have played in history.
Judaism – Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and other Old Testament Figures
Most non-Christians and non-fundamentalist Christians recognize stories like the Garden of Eden, Tower of Babel, and Noah's Flood as sacred myths which sought to explain natural disasters or bolster moral rules or tribal identity. A devastating meteor strike may have inspired stories about Sodom and Gomorrah or the walls of Jericho (or then again, maybe not), but we lack archeological evidence for major Biblical stories including the conquest of Canaan and the flight from Egypt. We have nothing to back up stories of the Patriarchs from Abraham to Moses and Joshua.
Evidence on the ground fails to show any sign of Israel's lauded monotheism until the better part of a millennium afterwards. Even then, archeology suggests that David and Solomon existed, but the grandeur of their fabled kingdoms and royal exploits likely did not. To modern eyes, the real David and his "united monarchy" might look like a bandit chieftain of a cow-town in the wild Judean hill country.
Daniel Lazare tells the story this way:
Judah, the sole remaining Jewish outpost by the late eighth century B.C., was a small, out-of-the-way kingdom with little in the way of military or financial clout. Yet at some point its priests and rulers seem to have been seized with the idea that their national deity, now deemed to be nothing less than the king of the universe, was about to transform them into a great power. They set about creating an imperial past commensurate with such an empire, one that had the southern heroes of David and Solomon conquering the northern kingdom and making rival kings tremble throughout the known world. From a "henotheistic" cult in which Yahweh was worshiped as the chief god among many, they refashioned the national religion so that henceforth Yahweh would be worshiped to the exclusion of all other deities.
Jewish history doesn't start approaching historical reliability until centuries later, with well-corroborated events such as the Babylonian conquest and exile, and even the accounts from these and later periods show extensive bias from the scribal factions that wrote them. For instance, they demonize successful, long-lasting rulers such as Manasseh and the Omride dynasty (including the notorious queen Jezebel), while heaping praise on short-lived but pious failures like Josiah.
Islam – Muhammad
The Arab conquests of the 7th and 8th century are well-established and undeniable—but the same is not true of the prophet who was the purported inspiration behind them. Before these military conquests, Arabia was a region of many different tribes, including urban merchants, nomadic Bedouin, and Jewish and Christian communities. The pagan Arabs worshipped hundreds of gods, including the three goddesses Al-Lat, Manat, and al-Uzza, mentioned in the notorious "Satanic Verses"of the Qur'an, and high gods like Hubaal and Allah. Features we associate with Islam, such as pilgrimages to the sacred Kaaba in Mecca (originally a thousand-year-old shrine to Hubaal), were important parts of the region's religious life for centuries before the Muslim era.
According to tradition, it was the prophet Muhammad who united the Arabian tribes and wrote the Qur'an. But there are curious inconsistencies in the official story. Early mentions of Muhammad are oddly non-specific and, at least twice, are accompanied by a cross. The word Muhammad itself is not just a proper name, but an honorific title ("The Praised One") —and it is possible it originally referred to Jesus, as pockets of Christianity were well established in the region. Crosses appear on some coins of this era and in some early ostensibly Muslim architecture.
Though orthodox Muslims believe Muhammad received the Qur'an directly from the archangel Gabriel (Jibril in Arabic), as much as a third of the Qur'an appears not only to pre-date Muhammad, but to be derived from various earlier Syrian Christian liturgical writings.
According to the standard account, the Qur'an in its present form was distributed in the 650s— but in example after example of important correspondence and records, no one—neither Arabians, Christians nor Jews—ever mentions the Qur'an until the early eighth century.
During the early years of the Arab conquests, accounts by conquered peoples never mention Islam, Muhammad, or the Qur'an. The Arab conquerors are called "Ishmaelites," "Saracens," "Muhajirun," "Hagarians" —but never "Muslims." Approximately two generations after Muhammad's official death date, the first references to Islam and "Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam" appear. Around the same time, Islamic beliefs begin to appear on coins and inscriptions, and certain common Muslim practices such as reciting from the Qur'an during mosque prayers begin.
But no record of Muhammad's reported death in 632 appears until more than a century later. After the Abbasid dynasty supplants Abd al-Malik's Umayyad line in the mid-8th century, the first complete biography of Muhammad finally appears and biographical material begins to proliferate (at least 125 years after his supposed death). The Abbasids also accuse their Umayyad predecessors of gross impiety, and Abbasids, Ummayyads and Shiites all write new hadiths against one another.
All these and still other inexplicable elements of early Islamic history suggest that, incredible as it seems, Islam and the Qur'an and the shape of Muhammad's biography were results rather than causes of the Arabian conquests.
Buddhism – Buddha
Scholars are careful not to put too much confidence in any of the professed historical facts of the Buddha's life. Trying to establish even a ballpark figure of when he lived with any degree of confidence has proven to be deeply problematic. Many scholars tend to place him around the 6th or 5th century BCE, but Tibetan Buddhist traditions put his death in the 9th century BCE (about 833 BCE), while the Eastern Buddhist traditions (China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan), believe he died over a century earlier than that (949 BCE). In any case, it was not until the early second century CE—or roughly half a millennium after Buddha's life—that the first biography of Buddha was written in the form of an epic poem called the Buddhacarita.
According to tradition, the Buddha's teachings were only transmitted orally for several centuries. By the time the earliest Buddhist scriptures were first written down, large numbers of rival Buddhist schools existed—each with their own competing collection of Buddha's teachings. Virtually all of these have been lost, though some have been partially reconstructed through translations into Chinese, Korean, and Tibetan. However, our surviving and reconstructed canons differ from one another so greatly that scholars are unable to tell which, if any, represent the "original" or "authentic" Buddhist scriptures.
According to venerable tradition, the founder of Daoism, Laozi (aka Lao-Tze, Lao Tzu, Lao Dan, or "Old Master") wrote his teachings in a short book named after him in the sixth or early fifth century BCE. Modern scholars disagree. Based on archaeological evidence, competing collections of sayings attributed to Laozi began to be written down probably from the second half of the fifth century BCE, grew, competed for attention, and gradually came to be consolidated over the following centuries until the Laozi probably reached a relatively stable form around the mid-3rd century BCE.
Nearly every fact about Laozi is in dispute, including the name Laozi itself. According to several scholars, he is entirely legendary. The most common biographical account of his life was recorded around 94 BCE in Sima Qian's Shiji, (or "Records of the Grand Historian"). Scholars today take the Shiji with a grain of salt. According to Daoism scholar William Boltz, it "contains virtually nothing that is demonstrably factual; we are left no choice but to acknowledge the likely fictional nature of the traditional Lao tzu [Laozi] figure."
Sikhism has only been around for about five hundred years, a Johnny-come-lately compared to most world religions. Its founder, Gurū Nānak, said to have lived c. 1469-1539, was the first of a line of ten founding gurus of the faith. Virtually everything known about him comes from Janamsakhis, or "birth-stories" of the life of Guru Nanak and his early companions. These miracle-laden tales are replete with supernatural characters and extraordinary events like conversations with fish and animals. They come in many versions, which often contradict each other, and in some cases have clearly been tinkered with to beef up the role of this or that disciple or advance the claim of some faction. Oddly, they don't begin to appear until 50-80 years after his death, and many more come in during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.
Sikhs hold that The Guru Granth Sahib, their scripture, was composed predominantly by Nānak and the first six gurus (along with the poetry of thirteen Hindu Bhakti movement poets and two Sufi Muslim poets). However, the Adi Granth, its first rendition, was compiled by the fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev (1564–1606) in 1604, generations after the faith's supposed beginnings, and the final edition of Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, was not finished until a full century after that, in 1704.
Confucianism – Confucius
Confucius, or "Master Kong," a.k.a. K'ung Fu-tzu, Kǒng Fūzǐ, etc., is said to be a 5th century BCE figure, though his earliest biography appears 400 years after his death. The Analectsattributed to himand other ancient traditions was actually composed sometime during the Warring States period (476–221 BC) and reached its final form during the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).
Jainism – Rishabhanatha
Jainism claims that Rishabhanatha, the first of its twenty-four founding Jain Tīrthaṅkara, meaning teachers, was born millions and millions of years BCE, lived for 8.2 million Purva years—one Pūrva (पूर्व) equals 8,400,000 years, squared, in Western reckoning—and was 4,950 ft. tall. Skipping forward a bit, in the 9th century BCE, their 23rd Tirthankar, Parshvanatha,is born. He is a mere 13 1/2 feet tall and lives for but 100 years.
Despite this impressive (some might say incredible) pedigree, observers could be forgiven for suspecting that the religion actually started with the 24th and final (and shortest) Tirthankar,Mahavira, supposedly born at the beginning of the 6th century BCE; the actual year varies from sect to sect. It's difficult to say for certain, as tradition also holds that starting around 300 BCE, Mahavira's teachings, transmitted orally by Jain monks, were gradually lost, and the first written versions did not arrive until about the 1st century CE—at least, according to one branch of Jainism, a fact disputed by rival factions.
Not all religions claim great men—or god-men—as founders. Shinto & Hinduism are two of the oldest religions still widely practiced. Historically, Hinduism is considered a fusion of multiple Indian cultures over millennia, while Shinto emerged from the beliefs and practices of prehistoric Japan. As such, there is no single founder figure of Hinduism or Shinto. Other religions, like Baháʼí and Mormonism have known founders, but we also have clear documentation of the ways in which they borrowed from and adapted earlier religions. Mirza Hoseyn 'Ali Nuri, founder of Baháʼí, drew on Bábism, which is itself a spin-off of Shia Islam. Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, amended and appended Christianity. Despite claims of divine inspiration or intervention, the natural history of these religions is pretty clear.
But as with other information sets that replicate and spread (for example: DNA, internet memes or culture), changes can accumulate in small or large increments, introduced gradually or in large chunks. As bits get handed down, people instinctively "correct" those that don't make sense or are no longer acceptable before passing them on. If we strip away the founding stories and look at religions with a critical eye, some of these corrections become obvious.
Looking at the big picture, patterns emerge in this process, patterns that are shaped by cultural and technological evolution and the gradual accumulation of knowledge. And that is the topic of Part 2 in this series.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Quillette, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.
Beto O’Rourke targets South Texas in bid to win back Democratic voters he’ll need to beat Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022
"Beto O'Rourke targets South Texas in bid to win back Democratic voters he'll need to beat Gov. Greg Abbott in 2022" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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MCALLEN — In the first days of his campaign for governor, Beto O'Rourke made a beeline to this southernmost corner of the state, saying it was no mistake he was choosing to start his run in a part of Texas where Democrats have their work cut out for them after the 2020 election.
His supporters know it, too.
“We are being attacked at all ends," Amanda Elise Salas said as she introduced him here Wednesday night. “This is a Democratic area, and there is no way we are gonna let Republicans come in here and take over."
“They're knocking at our door," Mario Saenz, a Democratic precinct chair from Brownsville, said afterward. “We cannot let them in."
A lot of Democratic hopes are riding on O'Rourke this election cycle, but few may be more consequential to the party's future in Texas than his ability to stave off a strong GOP offensive in South Texas. Emboldened by President Joe Biden's underwhelming performance throughout the predominantly Hispanic region last year, Republicans have been pushing hard to make new inroads there, and O'Rourke faces an incumbent in Gov. Greg Abbott who has been working for years to win Hispanic voters.
But it is not just about halting the GOP's post-2020 march in South Texas. O'Rourke, who is facing an uphill battle in the governor's race, has ground to make up after his own less-than-stellar performance with voters there in 2018 when he ran for U.S. Senate — and turning out more Latino voters has long been key to Democratic hopes statewide.
O'Rourke has been candid about the problem. Days after the 2020 election, which cemented Republican dominance across Texas, he told supporters that the fact that the border region “has been ignored for years by the national party, and even many statewide Democratic candidates, hurt us badly." Last week, he began his campaign for governor with a swing through the region, calling the early itinerary “very intentional" and vowing to return frequently.
“If the great sin committed by Republicans historically has been to disenfranchise voters, including those in the Rio Grande Valley, then that committed by Democrats has been to take those same voters for granted in the past," O'Rourke told reporters in San Antonio, before heading south to Laredo and the Valley.
O'Rourke got a wake-up call in South Texas during the 2018 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, losing many counties in the region to a little-known and little-funded opponent, Sema Hernandez. While it was not the first time a candidate with a Hispanic surname beat expectations in a statewide Democratic primary, O'Rourke acknowledged afterward that he needed to do more outreach.
Months later, in the general election, O'Rourke failed to make significant gains in South Texas compared to his party's 2016 presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, which would have been key to defeating U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. In the largest South Texas county outside San Antonio — Hidalgo — O'Rourke barely improved on Clinton's vote share there, getting 68.8% after she got 68.5%.
Then came 2020, when Biden carried South Texas — and the Rio Grande Valley in particular — by a much narrower margin than Clinton did. He outright lost Zapata County, a longtime Democratic stronghold just north of the Valley.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto OíRourke speaks at a rally in downtown McAllen on Nov. 17, 2021. OíRourke has decided to stop at the Rio Grande Valley on his first week of announcing his gubernatorial run. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
Supporters of democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke attend a rally in downtown McAllen on Nov. 17, 2021. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
First: This election cycle, a lot of Democratic hopes are riding on O'Rourke, who recently spoke at a McAllen event. Last: Texans listened to O'Rourke on the campaign trail in South Texas, where the Democrat is trying to stave off a strong GOP offensive. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
Republicans charged into this election cycle determined to make further gains, and they have already had success. They flipped a state House seat on the South Side of San Antonio earlier this month, and on the same day that O'Rourke announced his campaign for governor, state Rep. Ryan Guillen, who has represented Rio Grande City as a Democrat since 2003, announced he was joining the GOP.
Abbott's top political adviser, Dave Carney, said the governor's campaign has “a lot of plans" for South Texas this election cycle and that Abbott is “gonna be there a lot." Carney said he was not worried about new Latino voters turning out next year.
“I want every Hispanic voter to turn out," Carney said. “That helps us."
Democrats say O'Rourke needs to keep his word and return often to South Texas, giving it the kind of attention that the Biden campaign did not last year. And while border communities are about “so much more than immigration" — as O'Rourke said at multiple stops last week — he will have to grapple with how to talk about an issue that is No. 1 for Abbott and a political liability for Democrats in Texas right now.
Republicans scoff at the idea that O'Rourke can rescue his party in South Texas. Monica De La Cruz, a GOP candidate to flip a congressional seat anchored in the Valley, said O'Rourke is “not the answer," and his positions on law enforcement, gun rights and border security are out of step with South Texas voters.
“I don't think it changes the landscape," De La Cruz said. “I think that South Texans have conservative values of faith, family and freedom, and I don't think Beto O'Rourke changes that at all."
Beto O'Rourke spoke at a press conference after holding a COVID-19 roundtable in Mission last week. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
Taking on South Texas means O'Rourke will not be able to avoid tough questions about border security and immigration — issues with which Democrats have struggled in the past year to find a unified position under Biden.
Texas Republicans are largely narrowing in on border security as a winning issue for the party. And Abbott has taken sweeping — and at times unprecedented — action to fortify the border since Biden took office, charging migrants as criminal trespassers in state court and announcing the construction of a state-funded border wall.
While there is not necessarily broad support for everything Abbott has done on the border, Texas voters agree they do not like Biden's approach. The latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune survey found that only 22% of voters approved of how Biden has handled immigration and border security, compared with 63% who disapprove.
In one of his first interviews as a gubernatorial candidate, O'Rourke criticized Biden's handling of the border, saying it is clear Biden “could be doing a better job at the border" and that it is “not enough of a priority for his administration." In that interview and other comments to reporters last week, O'Rourke called for “predictability," “order" and “rule of law" on the border. He also spoke frankly about the need for asylum-seekers to come to the country through ports of entry, not in between them, present their asylum claim and, if it is denied, face deportation.
It is the kind of rhetoric that would have been surprising to hear in O'Rourke's past campaigns. While it may appeal to voters looking for a harder line on the border, it could turn off Democrats hoping for a bold contrast with the GOP.
“He's taking up these right-wing talking points instead of pushing for a more humane approach to immigration, which is what he was doing back in 2017," said Denisce Palacios, a Democratic organizer from the Valley who volunteered for O'Rourke's 2018 campaign. “It looks like he's kind of moved more to the center in terms of messaging. That's kind of frustrating."
At the same time, O'Rourke said Biden needs to end Title 42, a policy that allows the administration to quickly turn away undocumented immigrants at the border, citing a public health crisis — the coronavirus pandemic. O'Rourke said that is fueling disorder at the border because those who are rejected are simply returning again and again.
It remains to be seen how much O'Rourke actively campaigns on border issues.
His announcement video did not mention the border. He prioritized other issues in interviews around the announcement. And he did not mention the border during his first public campaign event Tuesday morning in San Antonio. But hours later in Laredo, he was back in familiar form, extolling immigrants' value to the country and praising Laredoans for having “stood up" to city leaders to stop a border wall, a major rallying cry in his 2018 campaign.
Chants of “No more wall!" almost instantly broke out. Minutes earlier, the chair of the Webb County Democratic Party, Sylvia Bruni, had said while introducing O'Rourke that she was “so, so thrilled, I want to cry."
Dani Marrero Hi, a spokesperson for LUPE Votes, said now is not the time for O'Rourke to downplay immigration as an issue in South Texas. She pointed out that Abbott “talks about immigration all the time," and while she strongly disagrees with his policies and rhetoric, he is at least talking about it.
“When there's a space and Democrats don't talk about it with an alternative vision, it leaves room for Abbott and Trump … to come in and write the whole narrative about what the border is," she said.
Supporters of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke at a McAllen rally last week. O'Rourke has ground to make up with South Texas voters after an underwhelming performance there when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
Beyond any issue, though, South Texas Democrats say O'Rourke needs to show up, especially after a presidential election that left them wanting. Biden never visited Texas, let alone anywhere in South Texas, during the general election, and his running mate, Kamala Harris, visited McAllen only in the final days of the race.
To that end, South Texas Democrats are not particularly concerned about O'Rourke, who is known for his relentless campaigning. He toured all 254 counties during his 2018 race, which included a bus tour specifically focused on the border.
“We're the poorest region of Texas, maybe one of the poorest regions in the nation, and you know, it was a huge letdown that Kamala and Biden didn't make a prolonged appearance here in the Valley, but Beto, you know, he's been recurringly focusing his presence here, especially in his past campaigns," said Sebastian Bonilla, a 25-year-old from the Valley who came to see O'Rourke speak in McAllen.
Abbott has put an emphasis on South Texas since his first gubernatorial campaign in 2014, and he has been increasingly traveling there in recent months, both in his official capacity and for political appearances. Carney said it will become “crystal clear" after the holidays that Abbott will be traveling to South Texas frequently.
Carney said Abbott's campaign has “already modeled a million Democrat voters who do not support Beto, the vast majority south of San Antonio." The voters say they support a Democrat in a generic gubernatorial ballot — an unnamed Democrat versus an unnamed Republican — but when asked about O'Rourke versus Abbott, they are undecided or pick Abbott.
“That's just such a hole to come out of," Carney said.
Bruni said she is optimistic that O'Rourke will not meet the same fate as Biden in South Texas because he will spend meaningful time there and Democrats will campaign in person, unlike in 2020, when they largely went virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic.
She said that allowed Republicans to campaign in person unchecked — and they “scared the Dickens" out of voters in places like Zapata County with claims that Biden would eliminate their oil-and-gas jobs and take away their guns.
“The only way we can resolve that [next year] … is by being out there and telling the right story," Bruni said. “That's the only way. We did not do that in 2020."
To the extent that anxieties about oil-and-gas jobs and gun rights fueled GOP gains in South Texas last year, O'Rourke entered the gubernatorial race prepared. He has been talking about a Texas AFL-CIO plan to generate 1 million energy jobs that would supplement — not replace, he emphasizes — existing jobs in the oil-and-gas industry. And while he has not backed away from his 2020 campaign pledge to “take" people's assault weapons, he has sought to reframe it in the context of Texas having a “long, proud tradition of responsible gun ownership."
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke sits in a COVID-19-focused roundtable with, from left, Dr. Ivan Melendez, the Hidalgo County health authority, Richard Fleming, a McAllen doctor, and Carlos Sanchez, a former journalist from the area who now works for the county, in Mission on Nov. 17, 2021. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke, right, holds a press conference in Brownsville with Mayor Trey Mendez on Nov. 18, 2021. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
First: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke at a COVID-19 roundtable with, from left, Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez, McAllen doctor Richard Fleming and former journalist Carlos Sanchez. Last: Beto O'Rourke, right, held a press conference in Brownsville with Mayor Trey Mendez last week. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
O'Rourke touched on several other issues during his inaugural trip to the Valley as a gubernatorial candidate. He discussed COVID-19 with school board members in McAllen and with Hidalgo County Health Authority Ivan Melendez in Mission. The two spoke at length about how the region has been uniquely vulnerable to the pandemic, with its poverty and uninsured population, and they exchanged ideas on how to convince vaccine skeptics to get immunized.
Speaking with reporters after his McAllen rally, O'Rourke ticked through the unique issues that had come up in his conversations with South Texas leaders recently. O'Rourke said he spoke with Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez about expanding broadband internet, he spoke with Jim Hogg County Judge Juan Carlos Guerra about improving water quality and he talked with Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez about combating food insecurity, especially among children.
After the McAllen event, Ivan Duran Puente, a 22-year-old graduate school student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, said he was taking the GOP threat in South Texas seriously but was hopeful Democrats have increased their numbers since 2018. At the same time, he acknowledged Republicans have a “major voice here, especially with our older conservative demographic."
“I don't want to give it power, but it's always something you have to be cautious about," he said. “We just need to put more faith in the campaign of Beto than give power to the voice of conservatives because that's how they are gonna win at the end of the day."
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/11/24/beto-orourke-2022-south-texas/.
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