President Trump on Thursday watched the first event of Beto O'Rourke’s campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. And the president came away with a curious first impression of the former Texas congressman.
“I think he’s got a lot of hand movement. I've never seen so much hand movement,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “And I said, ‘Is he crazy or is that just the way he acts?’”
“I’ve actually never seen anything quite like it,” the president added. “Study it. I'm sure you'll agree.”
Trump’s own distinctive gesticulations — the thumb-to-forefinger bob, the upturned-palm shrug, the "I'll pretend to recognize someone in the crowd" point — have been extensively analyzed and mocked since he entered public life.
O’Rourke announced his 2020 presidential bid in an online video early Thursday. His first campaign stop was at a coffee shop in Keokuk, Iowa, where he spoke to would-be caucus-goers.
“This setting right now, the very first event of our campaign for president, is an example of the way I wish to campaign across this country for every single American,” O’Rourke said, punctuating many of his sentences with hand gestures. “I could care less [about] your party, your persuasion, your religion, anything other than the fact that right now we are all Americans, we are all human beings and we are doing everything in our power for one another, for this great country and for every generation that follows. This is democracy.”
He vowed to run a “positive” campaign in what is already a crowded Democratic presidential field.
“Critically important that we not denigrate or demean any other candidate,” O'Rourke said. “We don't talk about their personal lives.”
He added: “Any single Democrat running today — and I may not be able to enumerate every single one of them right now — would be far better than the current occupant of the White House.”
Later, at a campaign stop in Burlington, Iowa, O’Rourke laughed off Trump's critique.
“I have nothing to say to that,” O’Rourke told reporters. “I think people want us to rise above the pettiness, the smallness.”
Trump declined to say who in the Democratic field represents the biggest threat to his reelection.
“Whoever it is, I’ll take them on,” he said.
On Fox News, Hogan Gidley, the deputy White House press secretary, previewed another curious line of attack against O’Rourke: his birth name.
“Beto O’Rourke is now in the game for the Democratic primary — what does the president think about that?” Fox News’ Bill Hemmer asked Gidley.
“First of all, you pronounced it wrong, it’s Robert Francis, that’s No. 1,” Gidley said. “No. 2, we don’t care who gets in the race, the fact is the president’s going to win reelection.”
Gidley noted that Trump has referred to O’Rourke as Robert Francis on the campaign trail.
“And why wouldn’t he? That’s his name,” Gidley said.
O’Rourke, 44, was given the name Robert Francis at birth. Growing up in El Paso, he was called “Beto” — a common nickname in Mexico for people named Roberto — and it stuck.
One of Trump’s allies in Congress echoed Gidley on the Senate floor.
“Democrats used to take border security seriously,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said. “But now the inmates are running the asylum. Politicians like Robert Francis O’Rourke say we should tear down existing walls on the border.”
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