With Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary victory in New York’s 14th Congressional District, a new Democratic star is born. Ocasio-Cortez is being celebrated far and wide. And why not? The Democrats need some young faces and a fresh approach.
It will be interesting to see if Ocasio-Cortez becomes a legitimate crusader against the party establishment or if she will be co-opted and become little more than something of a priestess who grants absolution to establishment Democratic Party leaders and candidates who take corporate money, live in the swamp and have not adopted the new leftist progressive agenda. Will she be an East Coast version of Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, whom Republicans see as overly scripted and desperately checking all the right liberal boxes or will she be a true product of the Occupy and Bernie Sanders movements?
So far, Ocasio-Cortez is withholding her support for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, and endorsing other left-wing progressives hoping to defeat incumbent Democrats. In a recent campaign video, she says, “This race is about people versus money. We’ve got people, they’ve got money.” Well, it is easy to criticize money and power when you don’t have any. We will see how she holds up now that money and power are calling. Watch to see how quickly she appears with Pelosi or shows up in Manhattan boardrooms for Democratic Party fundraisers with the usual suspects of the liberal elite. What is the betting line on how many weeks before she is the headliner at a Democratic Party fundraiser in California at a mega-donor’s home with the typical array of Hollywood celebrities in attendance? You get the idea. (And it will be interesting to see if Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, Jon Tester, D-Montana, and other endangered Senate Democrats want to have Ocasio-Cortez campaign in their home states.)
With that said, Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign video is a must-watch. It is well produced, and she comes across as credible and interesting. And it isn’t until the end that she mentions Medicare for all and a federal jobs guarantee.
Some campaign pros say that as much as she won, they believe the incumbent, Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-New York, managed to lose. He got ahead of himself in Washington, didn’t really live in the district and made the classic mistake of thinking no one could ever compete with him. But it was inevitable that the Democratic Party, which doesn’t have many white male voters, would at some point nominate fewer white male candidates.
More broadly, I see Ocasio-Cortez’s victory as evidence of the Democrats engaging in what parties do after they lose. First, the Democrats are setting a contrast to the opponent who beat them. Ocasio-Cortez is definitely something of an anti-Trump figure. Second, they are moving to the ideological wing of the party. While setting a clear contrast is almost always a good idea, the Democrats are moving to the loony left — and that may be an overreaction. This brings us back to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign video. Even though she gets around to the leftist policy positions, she doesn’t sound loony, threatening or half-cocked the way Republicans want. She shares Bernie Sanders’ agenda but with a much more sensible demeanor.
So, what does a win from someone like Ocasio-Cortez mean for Republicans? To paraphrase Sun Tzu, in battle, you must know thy enemy and thyself. Even though Republicans are having something of an identity crisis at the moment, it would still be wise to be mindful of the competition. GOP leaders and campaign pros should study the rise of Ocasio-Cortez.
The Washington Post