Democratic presidential candidates Beto O’ Rourke and Tim Ryan are not holding back with their anger following the two mass shootings that have killed at least 31 people and injured dozens more in a span of 13 hours.
And political experts say each candidate will face a tall task not making the killings too much of a polarizing political divide as they try to keep their waning presidential aspirations alive. O’Rourke is a former Congressman from El Paso, where 22 people were fatally shot on Saturday, and Ryan is a current Congressman who represents Dayton, where nine people were shot and killed early Sunday.
“There’s no way you can be running for president and not talk about this. All of the candidates must talk about it,” said former Democratic political consultant Robert Shrum, now the director of the Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California. “Obviously, I think we will be paying closer attention, especially to what O’Rourke and Ryan are saying since these tragedies hit so close to home.”
Brian Sobel, a San Francisco Bay Area political analyst, agrees.
“You are going to have more skin in the game if it happens in your neck of the woods,” he said. But, they have to be careful about not overplaying that hand.”
O’Rourke and Ryan have each returned home from the campaign trail since the shootings, and each believes that President Donald Trump has played a role in the violence with his divisive, racial rhetoric.
O’Rourke hasn’t been mincing words about Trump and he’s been quick on the defense, specifically when reporters ask.
“What do you think? You know the shit he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know, like, members of the press, what the fuck? Hold on a second. You know, I — it’s these questions that you know the answers to,” said O’Rourke, according to a transcript from CNN. “I mean, connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country.
“He’s not tolerating racism, he’s promoting racism,” O’Rourke said. “He’s not tolerating violence, he’s inciting racism and violence in this country. So, I don’t know what kind of question that is.”
The El Paso tragedy has seemingly lit a fuse in O’Rourke who is now “more intriguing” similar to his failed 2018 Senate run than he has been the past couple of months, Shrum said.
“He hasn’t been soft around the edges. It looks like he’s going to be very unchained going forward,” Shrum said. “He’s not going to pay attention to the formulaic rhythms and vocabulary of presidential politics. That will get noticed and people may stop and take a second look at O’Rourke’s candidacy.”
Sobel said O’Rourke mentioned during the second presidential debate last week that El Paso is one of the safest cities in America and he might want to reiterate that notion, in spite of the tragedy, to make America overall a safer place.
“There are some opportunities to have a bigger, bolder discussion on where to go from here,” Sobel said. “O’Rourke can speak to something so devastating happening in his own community. He can now personalize gun violence and possible solutions, including calling for a bipartisan collective gathering.
“That has heft,” Sobel continued. “And, that’s also true for Tim Ryan as well.”
Meanwhile, Ryan, who has suspended his presidential campaign, is in full-on attack mode against Trump, particularly angry that the president intimated in a tweet Monday that any gun control legislation should be linked to “immigration reform,” while not providing any specifics.
“That’s an absolute freaking joke that he’s going to tie this to the most polarizing issue happening in the United States today around immigration reform,” Ryan told CNN from Dayton on Monday.
“This is very clear-cut,” Ryan continued.”There are people getting access to guns that shouldn’t be and the guns are high-powered, the magazines hold too many bullets.”
Ryan tweeted on Sunday that, “Republicans need to get their shit together and stop pandering to the NRA.”
Trump spoke from the White House on Monday citing mental health, the internet, and even video games, as causes for the violence.
And, when Trump confused Dayton for Toledo, Ohio, during his statement on Monday, Ryan tweeted in angst: “Toledo. Fck me.”
Ryan also went on to say that Trump lacks the “mental capacity” to run the country and seems to be very disengaged.
“It’s heartbreaking because he’s showing diminished capacity, mental capacity to be able to lead. That’s what I see when I hear that,” Ryan told CNN’s Kate Bouldan. “You could grab anybody on the streets of the United States and they would know Dayton and El Paso after the last 36 hours.
“And to have the president of the United States, it just shows the level of disengagement,” Ryan concluded.
Ryan wasn’t alone criticizing Trump’s short speech on Monday that Shrum called “stunningly inadequate.” Fellow Democratic presidential candidate, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, tweeted, “Such a bullshit soup of ineffective words.”
Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden tweeted Monday that Trump can’t be silenced unless he’s voted out of office.
“Let’s be very clear. You use the office of the presidency to encourage and embolden white supremacy,” Biden said. “You use words like “infestation” and “invasion” to talk about human beings. We won’t truly speak with one voice against hatred until your voice is no longer in the White House.”
Now, O’Rourke, Ryan and other Democratic presidential hopefuls in the wake of the shootings are calling for the Senate to return from its August recess to vote on the long-stalled gun control legislation, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, that the House of Representatives passed earlier this year. The Dems are demanding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brings the Senate to try and get the bill passed.
Maybe O’Rourke and Ryan could be the catalysts to turn the bill into law, Sobel said.
“This is a genuine opportunity for Democratic candidates to reach across the aisle because this has to be a bipartisan solution and action,” Sobel said. “This isn’t a Democratic issue, a Republican issue, but an American issue.
“If it evolves into party sniping America will think it’s more of the same and wait for the next horrible shooting to occur,” Sobel continued.
Dan Sena, former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), shares a similar view.
“The truth is there are a lot of people who feel the way Ryan does How many, I don’t know? That’s the challenge with tragedies, everybody has a different perspective,” Sena said. “Attempting to make this issue as non-partisan and human as possible is the most important part.”
Sena said he doesn’t know if O’Rourke or Ryan will get a much-needed bump in the polls for their campaigns as a result of speaking out. Either way, Sena knows it’s not going to be easy for them and the other candidates going forward.
“I think as a whole the country is very frustrated with where we are with guns and weapons, even before all of these issues occurred,” Sena said. “Some of us in the Democratic party hopes this would be the election where talking about guns and gun laws would happen. My hope is that the talking starts now.”
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