Trump abuses Beto O'Rourke after Texan quits Democratic race

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After Beto O’Rourke withdrew from the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Donald Trump swooped, delightedly calling the former Texas congressman “pathetic”, “nasty” and “a poor bastard” who “made a total fool of himself”.

Related: Who anointed Beto O'Rourke to be our political saviour? He did | Moira Donegan

At a rally in Mississippi on Friday night, the president crowed over the political demise of an articulate and outspoken rival.

Mocking an infamous Vanity Fair interview in which O’Rourke said he was born for the presidency, Trump said: “He said that he was born for it, like he was born from heaven, he came down.”

O’Rourke made his announcement in a Medium post and a series of tweets, saying: “Our campaign has always been about seeing clearly, speaking honestly, and acting decisively. In that spirit: I am announcing that my service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee.”

Speaking to supporters in Iowa, he said he made the decision “reluctantly” and would stay active in the fight to defeat Trump.

“I will be part of this and so will you,” he said.

Let us continue to fearlessly champion the issues and causes that brought us together

Beto O'Rourke

The three-term congressman rose to national prominence with a strong performance in a 2018 US Senate race against the Republican Ted Cruz, a contest he lost narrowly.

He parlayed that run into a presidential bid which started strongly, as donors and voters were drawn to his unconventional background and energetic style.

Born Robert Francis O’Rourke to a solidly Irish American family, he nonetheless had a Hispanic nickname and a past including arrests and membership of a punk band which helped him stand out in a diverse field. His time in Congress as a rare Texas Democrat, from a border district, was valued and his habit of giving speeches while standing on tables celebrated, before the latter tactic began to be roundly mocked.

O’Rourke experienced very public misfires, including the Vanity Fair article and photoshoot and controversy over a joke about his wife, Amy, raising his children without him. Such reverses led to a public apology for his white male privilege but he never made a serious impression on the polls or in the crowded debates.

O’Rourke could not match progressive favourites Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders or muster the centrist appeal of Joe Biden or Pete Buttigieg. Some of his policies, such as an assault-weapon buyback to stop mass shootings such as that which killed 22 people in his home town in August, were popular with liberals but prompted ferocious criticism, even threats, from Republicans in his home state and on the national stage.

En route to a rally in Mississippi which he mistakenly tweeted would be in Louisiana, Trump first mocked O’Rourke in surprisingly muted tones.

“Oh no,” the president wrote, “Beto just dropped out of race for president despite him saying he was ‘born for this’. I don’t think so!”

He was harsher in front of a crowd, saying: “Anybody who says they were born for this, they’re in trouble.

“He came out of Texas a very hot political property, and he went back as cold as you can be.”

O’Rourke thanked volunteers and supporters and said: “Let us continue to fearlessly champion the issues and causes that brought us together. Whether it is ending the epidemic of gun violence or dismantling structural racism or successfully confronting climate change, we will continue to organize and mobilize and act.”

He said he would support the Democratic nominee. The frontrunners in the still-unwieldy field are former vice-president Biden, senators Warren and Sanders and Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

O’Rourke has also trailed Senator Kamala Harris, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang and representative Tulsi Gabbard. But he has consistently polled ahead of senators Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker, the pro-impeachment billionaire Tom Steyer and the former federal housing secretary Julián Castro, who all remain in the race.

Candidates including Warren and Sanders were quick to send O’Rourke on his way with tweeted thanks. Most concentrated on his advocacy for gun control reform.

Castro, who attacked O’Rourke on the debate stage on immigration, a key part of the former congressman’s platform, said his opponent “inspired millions of Americans … and rallied Texans and El Pasoans after the tragedy that struck his hometown”.

Harris, whose own campaign has refused to catch fire after a strong start, thanked O’Rourke on Twitter “for always speaking from the heart. Your passion for your community and conviction to create a future free from gun violence have enriched this campaign and shown us the leader you are.”

At 47, O’Rourke seemed to many to have a long political future, perhaps focused on the next Texas US Senate race, against the senior Republican John Cornyn. But on Friday an aide told the New York Times O’Rourke would not mount another run.

Related: The astonishing disappearing act of Beto O’Rourke

That perhaps reflected a realisation that the former congressman reached too far too soon. That is certainly a view held by many of O’Rourke’s critics, that as the Daily Beast put it: “Reacting to losing to Ted Cruz by running for president is like failing to land a role in a community theatre production and deciding to take your talents to Broadway.”

In a statement, the Texas Democratic party chair, Gilberto Hinojosa, called O’Rourke “a fighter, advocate and leader”.

“In the wake of the El Paso shootings,” he said, “he made the entire country proud as he focused his campaign on ending gun violence and the rise of white supremacy. We thank him for his service and leadership. He made Texas proud.

“Beto O’Rourke has done amazing things for the Democratic party in Texas, and we look forward to his future.”

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