Now that the most prominent, most left politicians in the Democratic Party have declared their candidacy for 2020, speculation can turn towards congressional endorsements that will slowly start to trickle in. There is one gigantic elephant in the room to address.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning victory over the DCCC Death Star last year in the Bronx catapulted her to a level of national fame that other progressives in Congress who have been there longer than her simply do not have. Her natural political skills and usage of her time to do things like elevate the Green New Deal and expose the rampant criminality baked into our campaign finance system have earned her a status that outpaces ideology, as she’s widely known for being a woman of the people.
Which is why from a political perspective, she is no doubt wading very cautiously into the 2020 mess. Not only is she new to Congress, but she’s new to the national party, and anyone who has searched “Bernie” or “Hillary” on Twitter knows how unhinged the fights on the left can be. It’s not out of the question that her endorsement could do more harm than good for either her own political fortunes or whomever she endorses.
But given that AOC has earned a special status among leftists explicitly because of her elevation of ideology into the vacuous mainstream American political debate, it has to be a significant consideration for her team as well. The old Democratic Party would take whatever the perceived “safe” option is in this route, but AOC is not part of the old Democratic Party. She’s the future. She spends her days being a legislator in the literal sense of the word while still committing to her activism, then she logs online to pick fights with Republicans over financial issues that Democrats have been too scared to embrace, while also calling out bad faith media arguments. It’s a new day in the Democratic Party, and I see only three possibilities for who Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will endorse.
I think this is the most likely option. I’d bet she won’t endorse anyone until after the New York primary—keeping in line with her stated policy of being a true representative for her district—as an endorsement pre-NY primary would no-doubt put her thumb on the scale in that election (Update: I missed this before publishing, but she has already said she will not endorse til after New York votes). After that, it’s hard to say for certain without a time machine to understand what the political conditions will be like a year from now, but this really is a safe option that protects her ideological priorities.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a Democratic Socialist just like Bernie Sanders is a Democratic Socialist, yet only one of them is perceived to be more radioactive than uranium by a incredibly vocal chunk of the Democratic Party. That’s proof that when it comes to advancing the agenda of Democratic Socialism, she has more widely applicable soft power within the party than Bernie does. There is a seemingly counter-intuitive argument to be made that by not endorsing the obvious candidate, she can in fact, better advance the obvious candidate’s interests.
Speaking of the obvious candidate, if she endorses anyone, it’s difficult to see how it wouldn’t be Bernie. There is a significant difference between being a liberal and a social democrat, and it’s an important distinction she makes a lot, but because she’s a more naturally talented politician than Bernie (and there is far less noise surrounding her), it comes off as less combative, but she very much is an adversarial figure to the Democratic Party status quo. If you like the policies of the 1990s and AOC’s, you are an ideological contradiction.
If she does endorse the candidate most aligned with her publicly-stated ideology, you can bet that all hell will break loose online. Donut Twitter will call her a traitor because they have a habit of imposing their own ideology onto politicians whose personalities they like, while the litany of establishment Democrats who will never not be bitter that Bernie had the audacity to challenge Hillary’s divine right to the presidency will replay the stupid Beto drama (where a progressive journalist had the audacity to link to an OpenSecrets.org link proving that only Ted Cruz took more oil and gas money than Beto O’Rourke in this last election cycle).
This is the only other plausible option I see given AOC’s stated ideology. Warren is not a Social Democrat and that is a very important distinction between her and Bernie, but she is an anti-monopoly crusader and given how far right the Democratic Party drifted from 1980 to 2016, being a pro-capitalist, anti-monopoly firebrand is closer to Democratic Socialism than say, John Kerry’s 2004 presidential platform. If AOC’s team takes the position that she should endorse someone so as to draw an ideological fault line in the sand, but endorsing Bernie carries far too many political risks, Warren is the only option.
The war on the left is largely around incrementalism. Incrementalism is both a larger fact of how politics works and a BS excuse to continue perpetuating the policies of the ruling class. For an example of how it’s a BS excuse, Amy Klobuchar said at her CNN town hall that she is not for free college for all and wishes that a “genie” could make it so—which is just an incredibly disingenuous position to take. Economists recently found that Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut did literally nothing for the economy, and that figure would pay for roughly 20 years of free college. We can pay for big, ambitious policies. We just choose not to.
If AOC endorsed Warren, it could be a nod to the larger fact that it’s really hard to go from laissez faire free market capitalism to full-blown social democracy overnight, while still calling BS on the notion among the actual centrists in the Democratic Party like Klobuchar that America cannot afford big, ambitious social policies. Whatever happens, it almost surely will not take place until after Super Tuesday next March, when New Yorkers go to the polls.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.