Holding a gold microphone and wearing a seafoam green pantsuit, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez energized the San Antonio crowd with her vision to swing the state of Texas under Democratic control.
“It will happen,” Ocasio-Cortez said at a rally earlier this month. “The only question is when, Texas.”
As the crowd cheered, she added: “The work you do today, the work you do tomorrow, the work you do on Monday – when you go one more door when you’re tired, when you make one more calls when you feel exhausted, you bring that day a day earlier.
The progressives in the audience roared in response, clinging to his every word.
Four years after bursting onto the national political scene with a shock primary victory over a longtime House Democrat, Ocasio-Cortez is using his substantial political clout to promote progressive candidates and policies. Ocasio-Cortez’s first campaign in 2018 was widely seen as a pipe dream, but now the left-leaning New York congresswoman is impossible to ignore.
This month, The New Yorker interviewed Ocasio-Cortez about the fight for suffrage and his role as a progressive icon, while New York magazine editors publish a book documenting his rapid rise in Democratic politics. . While making headlines, Ocasio-Cortez has continued to use her huge social network and sizable campaign war chest to advance her leftist political agenda.
As Democrats prepare for a potentially disastrous midterm season, the congresswoman’s actions on the campaign trail and on Capitol Hill make it clear she will continue to be a dominant force for the progressive movement. There no longer seems to be any doubt: AOC is here to stay.
On the track
Ocasio-Cortez traveled to Texas this month to campaign for two of the progressive candidates she has endorsed for this election cycle, Jessica Cisneros and Greg Casar. Since her first victory in 2018, Ocasio-Cortez has used her celebrity status to help other progressives attract voters and raise funds, which she has a unique talent for. In the 2020 cycle, his campaign committee raised over $20 million.
“Having him on stage with you is an amazing experience,” said James Thompson, a former congressional candidate who hosted a 2018 rally with Ocasio-Cortez in Wichita, Kansas. “The immediate impact on my campaign was fundraising. We raised a substantial amount of money through the rally we held here. It really energized people. »
An endorsement from Ocasio-Cortez has the ability to immediately elevate a progressive candidate’s campaign, and the congresswoman is not limited to open-seat races. In the four years since she won her own primary against then-Congressman Joe Crowley, Ocasio-Cortez has backed a number of candidates who challenge sitting lawmakers. Cisneros, for example, is trying to defeat Henry Cuellar, a Democrat who has served in the House since 2005.
“AOC endorses more primary challengers for incumbents than virtually all of those currently incumbent in Congress,” said Waleed Shahid, spokesman for Justice Democrats, which backed Ocasio-Cortez’s first campaign. “I think it has a lot to do with her being an incumbent’s main challenger, so she knows firsthand how hard it is to get support for something that requires that level of courage.”
But Ocasio-Cortez’s willingness to openly oppose Democratic incumbents has angered some of his House colleagues who have been the target of his criticism.
“This election is in Texas’ 28th congressional district — not New York,” Cuellar’s campaign said in a statement ahead of Ocasio-Cortez’s rallies in San Antonio and Austin. “Voters will decide this election, not the far-left celebrities who champion defunding police, opening borders, cutting oil and gas jobs, and raising taxes on Texans. who work hard. Members should take care of their own district before taking failed ideas to South Texas.
Ocasio-Cortez’s rallies in Texas also showed his singular ability to enrage his Republican critics, who were quick to denounce his suggestion that the traditionally conservative state would inevitably shift to the left.
“If AOC thinks for a moment that Texans will fall in love with her woke socialist idiocy, she doesn’t know Texas,” noted Dan Patrick, state lieutenant governor.
But for Ocasio-Cortez’s many admirers, his frequent clashes with Democrats and Republicans exemplified a new kind of politics.
“She was an inspiration, I think, to a lot of people,” Thompson said. “Now I think that scares the Democratic Party as well, because we stand up to the establishment and say, ‘Look, we want you to represent the people, not just the interests of the party.
In the halls of the Congress
Ocasio-Cortez’s willingness to clash with members of his party extends beyond the campaign trail to his work in Congress.
Earlier this month, she pursued the bold strategy of trying to force a vote on a bill banning members of Congress from trading stocks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had voiced her opposition to the proposed ban, and Ocasio-Cortez’s tactics appeared aimed at forcing the hand of Democratic leaders. (Pelosi has since taken a more open tone about banning members’ stock trading.)
Ocasio-Cortez has also been unafraid to criticize some of his centrist colleagues who have attacked progressive policy proposals. On Friday, after Axios released a report suggesting moderate Democrats blamed the party’s slump in polls on progressives and their support for the “defund the police” movement, Ocasio-Cortez fired back on Twitter.
She argued the real reason for Democrats’ bleak midterm election outlook was the party’s failure to pass the Build Back Better Act, the $1.75 billion spending package at the heart of the economic agenda. by Joe Biden. Ocasio-Cortez accused his centrist colleagues of derailing the legislation by allowing the bipartisan infrastructure bill to pass on its own, leaving Democrats with nothing to campaign on.
“They don’t know how to accept responsibility, so they lazily blame the same people they always do,” Ocasio-Cortez noted.
Rahna Epting, the executive director of the progressive group MoveOn, also dismissed claims that Ocasio-Cortez and her allies are hurting Democrats’ election prospects as “total nonsense.”
“Congressmen on the progressive flank have raised expectations of Democrats to deliver and prioritize people over profits. There’s nothing wrong with that,” Epting said. “What Democrats need to do is stop the infighting.”
Epting, whose group was one of the only progressive organizations to endorse Ocasio-Cortez in her 2018 primary battle, praised the congresswoman for using her platform to champion important issues, including debt relief. student and the climate crisis.
“AOC’s superpower is to expose and shed light on long-existing corruption and injustices,” Epting said. “I think she was one of the most electrifying members of Congress, probably in the history of the United States. And she’s a real champion for people.
But Ocasio-Cortez will be the first to admit that her hopes of enacting meaningful progressive policies have suffered setbacks in recent months. Build Back Better remains stalled in the Senate due to opposition from Democrat Joe Manchin, and the party has failed to enact nationwide suffrage legislation.
Instead of lamenting congressional inaction, however, Ocasio-Cortez urged patience.
“We have a culture of immediate gratification where if you do something and it doesn’t pay off right away, we think it’s pointless,” she told The New Yorker. “There is no movement, there is no effort, there is no unionization, there is no fight for the vote, there is no resistance to draconian abortion laws, if people think the future is baked and nothing is possible and we’re doomed.
Thompson saw the long-term impact of Ocasio-Cortez’s work first-hand. He lost his 2018 race, but since then Wichita politics have changed. Democrats now make up the majority of the Wichita City Council, up from previously holding just one of seven seats.
“Even though I didn’t win, her coming really energized our local Democrats in our community,” Thompson said. “It made us realize this look, we are not alone. And we can do anything when we get together.