At times, Mr. O’Rourke seemed to be crowdsourcing his candidacy. “Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? Advice?” he asked high-school students on his first day on the campaign trail, adding, “I know that I don’t have all of the answers.” (He also did himself no favors that morning with an aside about his wife Amy raising their children “sometimes with my help,” before quickly expressing regret for the comment.)
In the months that followed, Mr. O’Rourke ostensibly rebooted a time or two, to limited effect. He still pledged to go anywhere and everywhere. He still led with generational uplift, particularly after a gun massacre in his hometown El Paso.
So where was the magic?
His speaking style — a hope-and-change Obama impersonation, crossed with the mid-set banter of a brooding singer-songwriter — connected until it did not.
His eagerness to please — feet tapping atop cafe counters, hands slicing the air, head held in a permanent display of attentiveness — began to grate on some Democrats who had preferred such tics when he was merely the alternative to Mr. Cruz, a Republican they loathed.
Another sensation, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, was fresher, younger, quicker on his feet, crowding the not-classically-qualified lane that Mr. O’Rourke once seemed to own.
And after criticism early in his campaign over a dearth of major policy plans, Mr. O’Rourke had, by the end, so tested the bounds of acceptable debate within the party (“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15,” he vowed after the El Paso shooting) that some of his peers had worried that he was hurting the cause.
“We’re the first campaign to propose the boldest set of solutions to the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” he said proudly Friday night, “unafraid to confront the conventional wisdom of what was possible to say in the public sphere.”