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Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke became the Democratic Party’s golden boy in 2018 thanks to his near-miss campaign against Sen. Ted Cruz. Yet since declaring his campaign for the presidency back in March, his poll numbers have steadily declined. In recent weeks, O’Rourke has earned glowing reviews for his fiery rhetoric on gun control and Donald Trump’s racism — and for his support of the Democrats’ nascent impeachment effort — but will it be enough to reinvigorate his bid for the White House? Mehdi Hasan talks to the candidate ahead of next week’s crucial debate. Then, Intercept D.C. Bureau Chief Ryan Grim stops by to break down O’Rourke’s campaign.

Beto O’Rourke: The evidence, the proof, the facts have been out there now for more than two years. Finally, it seems that the House of Representatives has woken up and is beginning to move forward and meet its constitutional mandate.

[Music interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. Today, with the impeachment inquiry ramping up and another Democratic presidential debate around the corner, I speak to former Texas congressman turned presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who’s been railing against Donald Trump, white supremacy and gun violence in recent weeks. He says he’s getting rid of his talking points and wants to be himself at the next Democratic debate on October the 15th.

BO: In those first couple of debates, I was so loaded with opposition research and talking points that I had thought through things I wanted to say on every single issue. In this last debate, the third debate, when I didn’t do that, and just said “You know what? I’m just going to answer every question as honestly as I can,” I think I was so much more successful for having done that.

MH: So, can an energized and emboldened Beto O’Rourke find his voice again onstage in Ohio next week? Can he rescue his presidential campaign and recapture the passion and energy that made him the golden boy of the Democratic Party just a year ago?

I hate to say I told you so. But I did tell you so. Again and again and again and again. On this very show. Going back to 2018. Impeach Trump, I said, as did many others, and we were told, no, that would be a mistake, that it’s what the president wanted, we would be walking into a trap they said. Back in May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even made this especially ridiculous claim:

Nancy Pelosi: Trump is goading us to impeach him. He knows that it would be very divisive to the country but he doesn’t really care, just wants to solidify his base.

MH: He was goading her into impeaching him, apparently. And, yet, it turns out that  — surprise, surprise — Donald Trump, the most thin-skinned, petty, egomaniacal, megalomaniacal, narcissistic politician of our lifetime doesn’t want to become only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. Fancy that. Axios reported this week that Trump is deeply concerned about his legacy. In fact, he told House Republicans in a phone call last Friday that he thinks impeachment is a “bad thing to have on your resume.”

Now there’s an understatement. Oh, and if you don’t believe Axios’ reporting, just check out Trump’s own insane, unhinged, angry tweets since Pelosi announced the House impeachment inquiry. I think he now tweets out the words “presidential harassment” and “coup” at least once every other day.

Beto O’Rourke: The evidence, the proof, the facts have been out there now for more than two years. Finally, it seems that the House of Representatives has woken up and is beginning to move forward and meet its constitutional mandate.

[Music interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. Today, with the impeachment inquiry ramping up and another Democratic presidential debate around the corner, I speak to former Texas congressman turned presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who’s been railing against Donald Trump, white supremacy and gun violence in recent weeks. He says he’s getting rid of his talking points and wants to be himself at the next Democratic debate on October the 15th.

BO: In those first couple of debates, I was so loaded with opposition research and talking points that I had thought through things I wanted to say on every single issue. In this last debate, the third debate, when I didn’t do that, and just said “You know what? I’m just going to answer every question as honestly as I can,” I think I was so much more successful for having done that.

MH: So, can an energized and emboldened Beto O’Rourke find his voice again onstage in Ohio next week? Can he rescue his presidential campaign and recapture the passion and energy that made him the golden boy of the Democratic Party just a year ago?

I hate to say I told you so. But I did tell you so. Again and again and again and again. On this very show. Going back to 2018. Impeach Trump, I said, as did many others, and we were told, no, that would be a mistake, that it’s what the president wanted, we would be walking into a trap they said. Back in May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even made this especially ridiculous claim:

Nancy Pelosi: Trump is goading us to impeach him. He knows that it would be very divisive to the country but he doesn’t really care, just wants to solidify his base.

MH: He was goading her into impeaching him, apparently. And, yet, it turns out that  — surprise, surprise — Donald Trump, the most thin-skinned, petty, egomaniacal, megalomaniacal, narcissistic politician of our lifetime doesn’t want to become only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives. Fancy that. Axios reported this week that Trump is deeply concerned about his legacy. In fact, he told House Republicans in a phone call last Friday that he thinks impeachment is a “bad thing to have on your resume.”

Now there’s an understatement. Oh, and if you don’t believe Axios’ reporting, just check out Trump’s own insane, unhinged, angry tweets since Pelosi announced the House impeachment inquiry. I think he now tweets out the words “presidential harassment” and “coup” at least once every other day.

And here he is speaking — or should I say whining? — in the White House earlier this week:

Donald J. Trump: You can’t impeach a president for doing a great job. You can’t impeach a president for having the lowest and best unemployment numbers that we’ve had in 51 years. You can’t impeach a president for tax cuts and regulation cuts and creating — and even the ambassador would say the strongest economy in the world. We have the strongest economy in the world. This is a scam.

MH: There’s someone who definitely wants to be impeached. We were also told that the public didn’t want to impeach Trump. There was no bipartisan support for it. Pelosi told House Democrats in August “The public isn’t there on impeachment.” Which of course, is what the polls showed at the time, but what those of us who were pushing for impeachment were saying then was that polls change, public opinion shifts, if you show leadership, if you make the case. That’s what happened with Richard Nixon in 1974.

And that’s what seems to be happening now with Trump. A Washington Post poll out this week found that 58% of voters now support an impeachment inquiry, compared to only 38% who oppose it. In July, it was the reverse, there was only 37% support for an impeachment inquiry versus 59% opposed. That’s a massive turnaround in the polls. Then you wonder why I say, I told you so.

In fact, among Republicans, almost 3 in 10 of them support an impeachment inquiry, and almost one in five them of now say they’re favor of impeaching and removing him from office. That’s an astonishingly high number when you think of how cultish and blindly pro-Trump the GOP has become in recent years, and how not a single elected Republican in Congress supports impeaching Trump.

So history, I think, will vindicate those of us who said not only to impeach Trump for moral, constitutional, legal reasons, but who also said it wouldn’t harm or undermine the Democrats politically. One such leading Democrat who has been calling for impeachment for a while now, is former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke. Here he is on a conservative radio station in April 2018.

Radio host: If elected and you defeat Senator Cruz, right now, hav you seen enough to where you would vote to impeach the president?

BO: The answer’s yes. I’ve seen an attempt no matter how ham-handed to collude with a foreign government in our national election. I’ve seen an effort to obstruct justice. I don’t think that President Trump has the fitness or the competence or judgement to be in that position.

MH: O’Rourke is now running for president, of course, but hasn’t been faring so well in the polls — despite having entered the race with huge fanfare and pundit approval and, what looked like at the time, massive grassroots support after a headline-grabbing and pretty inspiring Senate campaign against Republican Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm elections, an election where he lost by only 200,000 votes.

Since then, though, his numbers have dropped, he’s been nowhere near the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates, and pundits have been writing him off. Which might be a tad unfair, given Beto has been having a mini-resurgence in recent weeks, especially in the wake of the tragic and horrific mass shooting in his hometown of El Paso in August, and he’s been calling out everyone from the far-right NRA to the liberal media and he hasn’t been holding back.

BO: Members of the press, what the fuck? Connect the dots about what he’s been doing in this country. He’s not tolerating racism. He’s promoting racism.

We’re averaging about 300 mass shootings a year. No other country comes close. So, yes, this is fucked up.

MH: In fact, it was Beto who had the line of the night at the last Democratic debate, in Houston, last month.

BO: Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against fellow Americans anymore.

MH: But can he pull that off again next week in Ohio? Let’s ask him. Beto O’Rourke joins me now from his hometown of El Paso, Texas.

Thanks for coming on Deconstructed.

BO: Thanks for having me.

MH: You became a hero to the Democratic Party, a household name even and won a lot of new admirers, myself included when you almost beat Republican Ted Cruz in Texas in last year’s Senate race, which was an amazing achievement. I think everyone would agree that was a real people-powered campaign. Within weeks of declaring your candidacy for president earlier this year, you were at nearly 10% in the polls, and in third place in the Democratic race. Since then, Beto, you’ve dropped less than 3% and seventh place, what went wrong?

BO: I think the race is extraordinarily fluid with more than 20 declared candidates, a lot of competing ideas and track records and life experiences that people are bringing to bear in this race. And a lot of voters who still haven’t made up their minds, still today haven’t made up their mind. The last public poll that I saw out of Iowa said that more than 60% of respondents still had not firmly and finally picked their candidate. So they’re still listening to those of us who show up to their communities, hearing what we have to say. So I think that’s part of it, for sure. And then I think my ability to come through clearly and decisively on the issues that matter most to them has certainly improved over the course of this campaign. I think, especially over the last two months, what I’ve been saying on race, on guns, on what we have to do with this defining decisive moment of truth is really resonating.

MH: Yep, I do want to comment on the moment. You’re very right about what’s happened in recent weeks. But just before we get there, you talked about people hearing you out, listening to other candidates. Explain to our listeners what makes you distinctive as a Democratic presidential candidate. What makes you stand out, as you say, in this crowded fluid race where you have Warren and Sanders very firmly occupying the left lane, you have the Bidens, the Buttigiegs, the Kamala Harris’s occupying whatever you want to call it, the centrist lane, where do you fit in Beto? What do you what role, what lane do you occupy? What do you offer that’s different to the rest?

BO: I don’t know, perhaps something that might distinguish me is that I just reject all of those lanes. And the positions I’ve taken are ones that I know, to be right, regardless of what lane they may place me in or take me out of, or how those positions might poll. So, you know, mandatory buybacks of weapons of war, I don’t know or didn’t know how that polled when I proposed it. And when I talked about it on that debate stage in Houston. You know, going back 10 years, and talking about ending the war on drugs and ending the prohibition on marijuana, or, as a city council member, trying to make sure that the same sex partners of city employees are treated the same as every other city employee. Just always trying to find the right thing and pursuing that, and understanding that the politics are going to catch up.

And what I have found, especially in Texas, and you mentioned the Texas race, listening to Republicans and conservative voters and people in rural communities, they care just as much about health care. They care about the planet. They understand our immigration laws are not working. They have kids in school who are concerned about gun violence. So they want to see us take action. And I don’t know that you have to fix yourself on a partisan spectrum in order to connect with people. In fact, I think freeing yourself from that might allow you to bring more people in which we clearly been able to do in the Texas campaign winning independence for the first time in decades. And winning nearly half a million Republicans as well.

MH: And you mentioned the Texas race, just very briefly on that, how do you persuade skeptical Democrats across the country who seem to be obsessed with this idea of electability and that’s why they’re, you know, going for Joe Biden, even if they’re not big fans, because they’re told he’s the guy who can beat Trump, how do you persuade them that the guy who couldn’t beat Ted Cruz can beat Donald Trump?

BO: I tell them that if they look at the results from that Texas Senate race, our state had ranked 50th in voter turnout before it. And obviously not because we love our democracy less than anyone else but through racial gerrymandering, people were literally drawn out of a congressional district based on the color of their skin or their country of national origin. We were able to transcend those barriers, see the greatest turnout in a midterm in Texas history, win more votes than any Democrat had before, young voter turnout up 500% in early voting, flipped two U.S. House seats, and helped to elect 17 African American women to judicial positions just in Harris County, the most diverse county in the United States of America.

I think it’s going to take a performance like that, a coalition like that one, an ability to bring people in and turn people out that will defeat Donald Trump in November of 2020. And I don’t know any other candidate that’s been able to do that, certainly not in a red state. And this, Mehdi, I think, is a really important point: Texas with 38 electoral college votes could be so decisive in November 2020. We know that Donald Trump has no respect for rule of law will do everything he can to hold his purchase on power, a decisive victory on election night and Texas could be that decisive state with those 38 electoral college votes. That’s something no other candidate can do.

MH: No, I completely agree. Especially since the tragedy in your hometown of El Paso, Texas, you do seem to be energized. You found your voice, many would say especially in terms of calling out Donald Trump for his racism, as you just did, calling out the media for their awful coverage of his racism and calling out Republicans on gun violence. Personally, as someone who gets frustrated by Democrats who hold back all the time, it’s been great to see you do that and you’ve won a lot of plaudits too for your line at the last presidential debate. Where you said “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.” And yet in the four weeks since, your position hasn’t really budged in the polls, is that because Independents are not fans of the mandatory buyback scheme. They like banning assault rifles, but they don’t support you on mandatory buybacks. Is that a problem for you? Can you change their minds?

BO: I don’t know if that explains the polling numbers. And I don’t all the way to be honest with you know how to explain the polling numbers. I do know a little bit of my history, and that you can find, you know, in similar periods of time in other presidential cycles, people who ultimately did very well, or even won being in similar single digit positions in the polls. So that doesn’t concern me as much. But specific to a mandatory buyback of assault weapons and weapons of war, in Texas that’s polling it 49% for and only 36% oppose without a dime being spent to support that position. And as you probably know it, it commands a majority when it is polled nationally.

MH: But a recent poll found 53% of people oppose a mandatory buyback program of assault weapons, a Monmouth University poll in September.

BO: Yeah, so I think there are polls, some that show a very large minority, some show a very slim majority support a mandatory buyback. But I think the important point is, that is without any national politician having spoken about it in any meaningful way prior to this, or any money being spent for it. So I think, you know, groups like March for Our Lives, and those who’ve been speaking about this — Eric Swalwell is a member of congress from California who’s actually been very outspoken on this for a very long time, they’ve helped to move the center of gravity on on this issue, and expand it beyond the NRA approved talking points, which were mandatory buybacks and red flag laws and maybe an assault weapons ban. So I see this changing in real time.

MH: But, Beto, it’s not just the NRA, is it? Some of your Democratic rivals have looked at those polling numbers, they’ve got worried and they’ve piled in against you too. Mayor Pete Buttigieg called proposals around a buyback “a shiny object that might distract from more realistic gun control proposals.”

Pete Buttigieg: So as a policy, it’s had mixed results. It’s been tried, and we have a way sometimes as a party, in my party, of getting caught just when we’ve amassed the discipline and the force to get something done right away, a shiny object makes it harder for us to focus.

MH: What do you say to Mayor Pete?

BO: I think this is the kind of thinking and triangulating that got us in this position in the first place and not just on on guns. You know, you go back to previous Democratic administrations on an issue like immigration. And the idea was to appeal to the middle or even to Republicans. We’ll deport hundreds of thousands of people break up hundreds of thousands of families, build hundreds of miles of wall and through that perhaps be able to purchase the political will to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. We”ll propose an almost middle of the road position in order to see if we cannot bring in Republicans. In other words, beginning with consensus instead of starting with an ambitious goal and and trying to bring the country along with you. That’s what has I think, was resulted in the failures in so many of the policies that we purport to hold dear, and have made almost no progress on and I think people are left uninspired by that position.

MH: Just in terms of ambitious goals and being inspiring: we had the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tell us for months and her colleagues that we can’t impeach the president, it’s not a good political move, and the polling numbers aren’t there. Now we’re seeing a complete turnaround in the numbers since she finally announced an impeachment inquiry. I think those of us who were calling for impeachment have been kind of vindicated, I would argue. Just on Donald Trump and impeachment, if you were in the House of Representatives today, as you were for many years, would you be preparing to vote to impeach this president?

BO: Yes. And I was asked this question two years ago by a conservative radio host in Lubbock, Texas. And I answered the question, exactly the same way. The evidence, the proof, the facts, have been out there now for more than two years. And I don’t know if it took polling. I don’t know if it took the latest revelations about the phone call with President Zelensky in July. I don’t know if it takes President Trump asking China in broad daylight to break the law with him as well. But finally, it seems that the House of Representatives has woken up and is beginning to move forward and meet its constitutional mandate. And I’m convinced that a majority of the American public is going to be with them as well and push their Republican representatives and U.S. senators to do the right thing as well. Again, this is another issue of just do the right thing and allow the politics to catch up.

MH: Just on the right thing, Beto. Do you think it’s right to narrow this impeachment inquiry to just Ukraine? Shouldn’t House Democrats be impeaching Donald Trump for everything else, obstructing justice, violating the Emoluments Clause, paying hush money to a porn star, caging kids at the border, threatening a civil war? There’s so much to impeach him for. Aren’t you worried that it’s a very narrow approach right now?

BO: I agree with you, yes. I think every cause you just gave is grounds enough for impeachment. I mean, we know that he invited a foreign power into our elections as a candidate, that he sought to obstruct the investigation, fired the principal investigator James Comey, sought to fire Bob Mueller, was prevented by his closest associates, after the phone call to Zelensky tried to cover up the call by putting it on an NSC server so that wouldn’t be distributed. We now know that he’s done that with other phone calls, with other foreign leaders for no good national security cause other than to prevent transparency, accountability, and justice. These are the specific high crimes that the framers of the Constitution envisioned when they came up with impeachment as the one sure way to hold the chief executive in check. And so we’ve got to follow through not for the good of any party or anyone’s political fortunes, but for the country and our democracy.

MH: So your advice to Nancy Pelosi would be go big?

BO: That’s right. Go big or otherwise, the American people can be forgiven for being confused and saying “You know, I thought Donald Trump had done all this stuff. But when I listen to the Democrats who are in power and actually have the opportunity to lay out the case, and they’re not mentioning any of this stuff, maybe Donald Trump is right and this is fake news, and it didn’t really happen.” So I do think we have to be clear and honest and direct with the American people about everything that he’s done that qualifies him for impeachment.

MH: And on the — I mentioned his comments last week, his retweet of kind of civil war, threats of a civil war-like fracture in the U.S. He’s putting that on the table. How worried are you that the Democratic presidential candidate next year, whoever it is Biden, Sanders, Warren, you, beats Donald Trump next November, but Trump refuses to accept the result, he refuses to leave, he says it’s all a deep state conspiracy with all illegal immigrants voting, and he calls on his followers to take to the streets and refuses to go, how worried are you about that scenario? Because I know I am.

BO: I’m very concerned about it and it’s one of the reasons that I think Texas is so important. If the result is in any way in question, if it’s not a clear and decisive victory on the part of the Democratic nominee, you know, that Donald Trump, his partisans, and those who are complicit in his crimes will exploit that to create confusion about the result. And to your point, very possibly, to refuse to accept the results of the election. Thirty-eight electoral college votes in Texas, what was thought to be a clear red state could forever answer that question, and prevent Donald Trump from being able to exploit that situation. I think it’s part of the reason that my candidacy and this state means so much to our ability to continue this democracy and peacefully transfer power from Donald Trump to the democratic victor after November.

MH: I know we’re almost at a time, but I do want to ask you about the debate next week or the next Democratic debate. What is your strategy for that debate? How do you plan to stand out on a stage filled with 12 people? Can you even debate on a stage filled with 12 people?

BO: Yeah, it’s a really good question. And I’ll tell you, you know, you were asking me about my fortunes at the outset of this campaign. And in those first couple of debates are, you know, I was so loaded with, you know, opposition research and talking points that I had, you know, thought through things I wanted to say on every single issue. Here are the four things I’m going to say on the economy or health care. And really, in this last debate, the third debate when I didn’t do that, I just said, “You know what, I’m just going to answer every question as directly, as honestly as I can with however I feel at that moment.” I think it was so much more successful for having done that. I never used any of that opposition research that I was loaded up with because the enemy is not Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders. It is Donald Trump. And the goal is to make sure that we deliver for the country and I want to talk in very clear, very honest, very direct terms about what’s most important to me. So that’s the way in which I’m preparing for this.

MH: One thing. I mean, I cheered your AR-15 line when I when I heard it in the debate, one thing that was missing was I was waiting for you to drop an F-bomb live on air. Is it true the broadcasters have asked you not to swear?

BO: Yeah, ABC before the last one, just you know, made very clear to all the candidates, I think because of me, that they really did not want us to —

MH: But CNN hasn’t, right? So go for it next week.

BO: Yeah, yeah. You may see us do that. You may see us do that.

MH: And one last question, one last. I know you have to go but one last question. I have to ask you what else your fellow Texas Democrat, Julián Castro, when he came on the show, you keep mentioning Texas as a presidential state key for the presidential election. It’s also key for the Senate, the next Democratic president cannot get anything done unless he really has a Democratic majority in the Senate —

BO: Agreed.

MH: Many would argue that you and Castro have a better chance of beating John Cornyn, the Republican senator in Texas next year, then you have being the presidential nominee, why not run? Why rule out running for the Senate in Texas, when that would make you a hero to the Democratic party if this time you got it done?

BO: If I were the party’s nominee for the presidency to take on Donald Trump, not only could I bring in those Independents that we showed we were able to win in Texas. Not only could I win the 38 electoral college votes in Texas, having a Texan at the top of the ticket would also help the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate against John Cornyn to defeat him in that race. And there are —

MH: I get that but if you’re not the nominee, why not run for the Senate and beat John Cornyn?

BO: And this is the point I was going to get to — there are a number of extraordinary candidates who are running right now. Any one of whom I’m convinced, will be able to defeat John Cornyn, every one of whom would be a great U.S. senator. So in whatever capacity either as a nominee for president or as a private citizen, I’m going to get behind that nominee for Senate and help to make them as successful as possible. I’m committed all the way.

MH: You definitely won’t run yourself for the Senate. You’ve ruled that out 110%? No scenario?

BO: That’s right. I’ve ruled that out.

MH: Okay. Well, good luck in the presidential race. Beto O’Rourke, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed.

MH: Thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

That was Beto O’Rourke, Democratic presidential candidate from Texas speaking to me from El Paso. Joining me now here in the studio is The Intercept’s D.C. bureau chief Ryan Grim, friend of the show. Ryan, good to have you back.

RG: Always a pleasure.

MH: Beto O’Rourke there, I just want to pick up with his last answer. A lot of Democrats wonder why he isn’t running for the Senate where he has a better chance of being the nominee, obviously, and then beating John Cornyn, eminently beatable Republican? His answer was that he wants to get behind the nominee there and there’s a great field of candidates. I was tempted, we ran out of time to say, well, there’s a great field of candidates at the presidential level, so does your argument mean you should pull out of the presidential race as well?

RG: It’s an extremely difficult race, though. And in some ways, what I don’t think people understand is that it’s, it could possibly be a more difficult race than the one in 2018 against Ted Cruz. Ted Cruz was and is loathed, including by his supporters. 2018 also saw this like this huge mobilization by Democratic voters.

MH: But won’t 2020 see that as well in a presidential race?

RG: It will, but it’ll be matched by Republican mobilization, which was depressed in 2018. Cornyn is less offensive to people. He’s just a anti-trial lawyer, pro-business, you know, cowboy boot-wearing Republican who has gone out of his way not to offend anybody for a very long time. Texas is going to go blue at some point, it feels that way. I think one of his calculations is that it’s not going yet. In 2018 —

MH: Well, you say it’s one of his calculations that it’s not going yet. But in that interview with me just now, he was making a very strong pitch that you put him on the top of the presidential ticket and Texas is in play in a presidential election.

RG: Why not say that? I mean, if you’re the guy from Texas, you want to say that you’re going to win your home state.

MH: Yeah, one thing that stood out from that interview to me was when he said that his first few performances in the debates were too technocratic, based on talking points, things he had prepared to say about the economy.

RG: And oppo research! That’s an unusual admission.

MH: Indeed. Indeed.

RG: I mean, everybody has oppo on their opponents, but nobody admits it.

MH: Kamala Harris made her name with oppo research in that first debate on Biden and segregation. But what was interesting, he’s saying basically, I dropped all that and you know — My point of reference, for listeners who are old enough is always Bulworth. It’s like why can’t someone do what Warren Beatty did in the movie Bulworth. Just drop all the campaign advice and just be yourself or the West Wing viewers will know the Bartlett be Bartlett classic line. So Beto’s basically saying, “I just was myself. I didn’t unleash any F-bombs because it was ABC. But I did go out and say Hell yeah, we’re going to take your AR-15″ Which was a great line and truly did energize the audience in the whole and people at home.

RG: I think what he’s getting at is a cautiousness that hobbled his campaign early on. They had a level of confidence, you know, out of the gate, that wasn’t warranted, you know, and part of it came from —

MH: Oprah was interviewing him.

RG: Oprah was interviewing him, and you rattled off the numbers. And also, they rationally looked around at the field and said to themselves, well, Bernie is not going to win because he’s 78. Elizabeth Warren is —

MH: Haunted by the DNA thing at the time.

RG: Right, she was at 5% at the time. Kamala Harris probably not going to be the nominee. Joe Biden, everybody thinks he’s going to fade. And so once they’ve gone through all of those rational calculations, they look at themselves and they think we’re it, like this is ours to lose.

MH: They had the Obama blessing. A lot of Obama people were shifting heavily —

RG: Obama met with him. He hired Obama people to come work for him.

MH: Didn’t he get rid of some Bernie people who —

RG: He axed the Bernie crew that had built his kind of innovative mobilization effort in the 2018 campaign, and replaced them with Obama people who ran a much more cautious, he consciously moved away from Medicare-for-all. You know, he kind of repositioned himself as an acceptable —

MH: How do you explain the recent switch because —

RG: Well, it didn’t work.

MH: No, the recent switch now where he’s actually has become energized. He’s saying things about immigration, about guns, about impeachment, racism, that he wasn’t saying before. And that has really struck a chord because a lot of grassroots Democrats are fed up with the cautiousness of their party’s leadership.

RG: Right. I think it’s because the cautious approach failed. You know, they watched his poll numbers dive, his small dollar fundraising, which exploded out of the gate, you know, slipped off of a bit. And so they need to try something else. And what do you do? You go back to the Beto that everybody fell in love with in 2018? The one who just, you know, speaks his mind and answers things plainly.

MH: Is this the Beto who you’ve been following for many years, back when he was, even before he was in the House of Representatives? Is this the Beto you’ve always known?

RG: It is. It is.

MH: He talked about the war on drugs, which you’ve written extensively about and how he was opposed to the war on drugs back in the day when it wasn’t fashionable, back when Kamala Harris was prosecuting people for it.

RG: Right. Yeah, he was a El Paso city councilman who introduced a resolution that I covered back in 2009 that would have not only called for legalization of marijuana, but called for a debate on legalizing all drugs as a response to the violence across the border in Mexico. And that became a huge political fight in El Paso, which ended with him primarying a conservative Democrat and winning his congressional seat. You know, he has taken some risks, but he’s never been kind of a movement left figure either.

MH: And just before we wrap up, if you were advising him next week, in the debate — Ridiculous debate with 12 people on stage, I find it ridiculous to have 12 people on stage. What would you tell them to do?

RG: I think he’s got to go after Biden. I think everybody else is hoping that everybody else will go after Biden. His only chance is to put himself in the top tier against a Warren and a Sanders. And that requires getting Biden out of the top tier. There’s only so much room up there. Nobody else is going to take Biden out it seems like, maybe Bernie is staying in the race —

MH: Kamala and Julián and Cory had a few shots?

RG: Right, you know, you have to do it gracefully because it didn’t work so well for Castro. But that’s what I would tell him. He needs to be the electable guy. The the one that everybody kind of falls back on after Biden fades.

MH: And has the passion that Biden clearly lacks. Was it my imagination Ryan or was I watching a Beto campaign ad and your voice popped up in the middle of it?

RG: That’s right. Yes. That was not your imagination.

RG [in campaign ad]: Beto was a council member in El Paso during a time when the drug war in Mexico was raging across the border. And he said, “Why don’t we think about legalizing marijuana to take away revenue from these cartels?”

MH: Why was your voice —

RG: That was really funny. Oh, so weird. So, I interviewed him at South by Southwest in March of 2018. And they used a ton of footage from that interview. And when I introduced him, I talked about how he’d primaried a conservative Democrat. And they used that as kind of like the B roll for —

MH: So do you get get to say at the end “I’m Ryan Grim and I approve this message?”

RG: I approve this message.

MH: Will you be popping up in any other campaign ads? Biden, Marianne Williamson, where else can we see or hear Ryan Grim in this presidential race?

RG: Let’s say some wonderful things about Marianne and see if it winds up in an ad.

MH: Rather you than me, and I can’t say I’m sad that she won’t be at the debate next week. We’ll have to leave it there. Ryan grim, thanks for joining me on the show this week.

RG: It was delightful.

[Music interlude.]

MH: And that’s our show. Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. And our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please do subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to theintercept.com/deconstructed to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review. It helps people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at [email protected] Thanks so much!

See you next week.