Earlier this year, a snowy winter deluge turned gridlock in Washington from figurative to literal. In that pause for breath, bipartisanship went viral in the form of two young Texas congressmen taking a road trip together.
Will Hurd, a Republican and former undercover CIA operative from Helotes, and Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat and former software company founder from El Paso, spent two days in a car with each other – and with Williberto, the trip’s piñata mascot – talking music, food, their first cars, and politics. Hundreds of thousands of people followed on social media. A few other members of Congress even suggested making their own #bipartisanroadtrip in the future.
“One reason it captured so much attention is because it’s so rare,” says Harold Cook, a Texas Democratic strategist. “I think a lot of people were wondering [at the time], ‘Why is this so rare? There’s something wrong if it’s so rare.’”
The two emerged from the trip friends, becoming two prominent examples of bipartisanship for a country that seems increasingly eager for it.
There is one looming problem, however: Both will be fighting for their political careers next year. And there’s every chance both could lose. Representative O’Rourke has launched a longshot bid to unseat Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, while Representative Hurd will be fighting to retain one of the most hotly-contested seats in Congress.
Their futures raise larger questions. Can a moderate Republican rise through the ranks of an increasingly partisan GOP? And is cooperation, and genuine friendship, with members of the opposing party something that voters will reward? Or punish?
A ‘PRODUCTIVE’ FRIENDSHIP
Having served together for three years, Hurd and O’Rourke knew each other well enough as colleagues to schedule three joint meetings with veterans in San Antonio the day the winter storm hit Washington. They didn’t know each other well enough, however, to avoid an uncomfortable first couple hours on the road (after O’Rourke suggested they rent a car and drive back to D.C.).
“The first 90 minutes were tough, I’ll be honest,” Hurd told ABC News in July. “But what was great about this was while Beto and I had worked on things before…having a long dialogue we learned there were many other areas we could probably cooperate on.”
The two have remained friends. Hurd had a hand-drawn map of their route framed for O’Rourke….