Beto O’Rourke can save the GOP

Photo by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson for The Texas Tribune

You work for who pays you. It’s a fact of life. Every member of Congress pledges to look out for your interests, but when they clock in on Capitol Hill, they work for who pays them — and that’s not you and me. Texas values will only be represented in Congress when Congress actually represents Texans, and Beto O’Rourke is showing Texas how that’s done as he runs for the U.S. Senate. That’s why electing a progressive Democrat is Republicans’ best long-term hope for a conservative Congress.

In the largest study of its kind, Princeton and Northwestern Universities analyzed thousands of congressional policy decisions since the 1980s. When public policy was compared with public preferences, the study found that what the people want has “near zero” correlation with what Congress does. But when special interests want something, there is “significant” correlation to what Congress does. Congress isn’t working for the people, it’s working for the corporations, unions, lobbyists, billionaire ideologues and other special interests that fund their campaigns.

In poll after poll “corruption and leadership” are among the most important issues to Texans; and this is indeed corruption. It isn’t a corruption of individuals — although it can, and often does, lead to that — it’s the corrupt system our representatives are forced to operate in. That’s the system we’ve got. It’s the system every single member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, used to get where they are.

Fixing that system is conservatives’ best hope for a Congress that reflects true conservative values in the long run. It’s how we ensure that our representatives represent us over the special interests. Republicans need to see that when a candidate refuses money from political action committees, the people will open their wallets and show up at the polls.

Unfortunately, Republican candidates have thus far been reluctant to embrace this direct-from-the-people small-donor model of campaign funding. That’s why a vote for O’Rourke is — in the larger sense — a vote to change the system in a way that will ultimately benefit conservatives.

On the one hand you have O’Rourke driving himself all over Texas listening to real people in every county — conservatives, liberals, Democrats and Republicans — and giving honest unfiltered answers to any question asked. He has told the Democratic establishment and political consultants, “Don’t mess with Texas.” His campaign meets the people where they are and relies on the people to propel it forward financially. While refusing corporate PAC money, funded entirely by individuals who give an average of $33, he’s managed to outraise Cruz’s campaign — by a lot.  

As a congressman, O’Rourke has consistently worked well with his Republican colleagues to find common ground and good policy that benefits all Texans and the country.

On the other hand, Ted Cruz personifies everything most Americans hate about Congress and politicians.

His message is carefully crafted by polling and the best political consultants money can buy, oozing with manufactured and choreographed faux authenticity. “Tough as Texas?” Please. Cruz depends on big money, corporate PACs and special interests to fund his campaign. He’s not working for you, that’s for sure. And let’s be honest, few in Congress will miss him.

What America — and the GOP — needs is a highly public proof of concept that a candidate is more likely to be elected by foregoing the big institutional money and relying solely on individual donors. We need to send a clear message to congressional candidates — both Democrat and Republican — that the days of working for the special interest donors are over. We’re going to support candidates who work for us.

When Congress works for and is accountable to the people, the conservative values of the electorate will be reflected in their actions. It’s that simple.

If we consider the long-term health of the Republican Party and our country, the choice to vote for O’Rourke should be clear. Sure, right now voting for a Democrat like O’Rourke might seem distasteful to a Texas Republican, but it’s the bitter pill that makes you well again, and it’s what we’ve got to do for the sake of conservatives everywhere.

Republicans are at a crossroads. The November elections can be when we begin wrestling the power away from special interests and giving it back to hard-working average Americans, or it can be our rubber stamp of approval for a system that works mostly for the elites.

Our republic literally depends on us fixing this system. The question is whether we have the courage to do so.

Disclosure: Todd Jagger has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Todd Jagger

State director, Wolf-PAC Texas

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