If getting noticed was Beto O'Rourke's goal, he succeeded. Getting nominated, on the other hand, remains downright impossible. The Texas politician, who vowed to take Americans' guns, promised last Thursday to take something else: churches' tax-exempt status. In what even his own side is calling "the worst idea of the Democratic primary," O'Rourke stood out all right -- for all the wrong reasons.
"Out over his skis," "desperate," "foolish" -- those are just some of the reactions from liberals on the latest misstep from the 2020 field. The fat lady started singing after CNN's LGBTQ pander-fest, when O'Rourke fielded a question from moderator Don Lemon. Did he think, Lemon asked, that religious institutions -- "like colleges, churches, charities -- should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?" The failed Senate candidate didn't hesitate. "Yes," O'Rourke shot back. "There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, or any institution, any organization in America that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. So as president we're going to make that a priority and we are going to stop those who are infringing on the rights of our fellow Americans."
For Beto, whose audition for president couldn't go much worse, the damage of Thursday night's statement wasn't limited to his own campaign. "Democrats are going to regret Beto's stance on conservative churches," the Atlantic warned. Over at the Washington Post, Michael Gerson worried his "disdain for religiously conservative Christians and Muslims... would hand Trump reelection." And that wasn't the worst of it. Fellow candidates, who almost certainly agree with Beto in private, seem to understand the dangers of admitting it publicly. On weekend talk shows, a slew of campaigns called out the failed Senate candidate, dodging -- at least for the moment -- the political quicksand.
"That means not only going to war with churches, but also with mosques and a lot of organizations that may not have the same view of various religious principles that I do," Pete Buttigieg told CNN on Sunday. "I'm not sure he understood the implications of what he was saying." Warren's campaign also let the AP know that while the senator stands "shoulder to shoulder with the LGBTQ community," religious institutions shouldn't be required to "conduct same-sex marriages in order to maintain their tax-exempt status."
Of course, deep down, liberals aren't upset over Beto's policy. They're mad he let it slip. After all, O'Rourke isn't exactly charting new territory. Democrats have been trying to punish Christians into conformity long before Obergefell. Lois Lerner's stealth attack against conservatives was already well underway at the IRS a full two years earlier. And it was way before that -- 2006 -- when Chai Feldblum, an eventual Obama appointee, laid out the framework that would become the Left's gospel: When religious liberty and sexuality conflict, religious liberty should never win.
So when President Obama's solicitor general told Justice Samuel Alito in 2015 that Christian institutions could lose their tax-exempt status for holding biblical views in a post-Obergefell world, the administration was speaking from experience. "It's certainly going to be an issue," Donald Verrilli admitted. "I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito. It is -- it is going to be an issue." And a campaign one at that.
The other candidates will feign shock and dismay at Beto's suggestion, but President Trump is right. Speaking at VVS on Saturday night, he knows as well as we do, "They are trying hound you from the workplace, expel you from the public square, and weaken the American family, and indoctrinate our children. They resent and disdain faithful Americans who hold fast to our nation's historic values. And if given the chance, they would use every instrument of government power, including the IRS, to try to shut you down."
If Beto O'Rourke is guilty of anything, it's giving voice to a deeply-held view in the Democratic Party -- which is that tolerance is a one-way street. And the only way to maintain it is if Christians, conservatives, and orthodox faiths are forced to put their beliefs in park. "The eventual nominee of the party will either repudiate this idea," Gerson warns, "or grant Trump a stout stick to beat Democrats with." Either way, the American people are not fooled. The message from the Left is the same as it's always been: Conform or be punished.