By all accounts, and based on my own observations, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ran a shrewd and brilliant primary campaign that makes her odds-on to be the next member of Congress from the 14th Congressional District of New York. One of the shrewdest parts of her campaign was the recognition early on that the primary was going to be an abysmally low turnout election and that, as such, the best winning strategy was the grinding business of field organizing, identifying your likely voters and getting the candidate out to meet them, and then getting them to the polls, all of which her campaign did masterfully.
And, since upsetting Joe Crowley, Ocasio-Cortez has proven to be a natural politician. She’s parried the usual nonsense from the Murdoch monkeyhouse. And, on Sunday, she handled Chuck Todd’s nothing-but-a-horse-race spiel with practiced aplomb. To wit:
Yes, it is a bit of a dodge, but it’s a damn graceful one. No, Chuck, she is not going to give you Democrats In Disarray. You’re going to have to say it yourself. (Narrator: He did.) This is somebody to feel very good about. However, already, on social media and out in Punditstan, the Democratic voting base is being encouraged by friends and foes to use Ocasio-Cortez’s victory to relitigate the ghastly 2016 Democratic presidential primaries, and to frame Ocasio-Cortez’s stunner as a vindication of whatever position you held, or whatever candidate you supported, in that most dismal of all recent American political exercises.
Further, there is an enormous temptation to make more of Ocasio-Cortez’s victory than it actually is. It was a stunner, as much for the margin of her victory as for the victory itself. But it was one Democratic primary in one district. For the moment, it signified that, and very little else. It doesn’t mean You Were Right All Along in 2016, nor does it mean that the national Democratic Party is ready for instant and substantial change. Everybody calm down.
Seriously, there is a danger here that I like to call Scott Brown Syndrome. In 2010, Brown, a Republican, won a special election to finish out the Senate term of the late Edward Kennedy. He won because his opponent ran a dreadful campaign and because Brown presented an appealing face and an empathetic biography. Also, his television ads were terrific. On election night, Brown’s upset was treated as a world-historical moment of change. Ted Kennedy’s seat, to a Republican!
It doesn’t mean You Were Right All Along in 2016.
It certainly had an immediate impact on the politics of the moment, but, gradually, it became plain that Brown himself had come to believe that his freak win in a freak election carried more import than it actually did, and that, therefore, he was a much bigger deal than he actually was. Fame-wise, he got seriously into his own product.
So, when he ran for a full term against Senator Professor Warren, in a state where Republican registration remained negligible, Brown abandoned everything that appealed to people the first time around. His ads and his rhetoric reeked with entitlement. His persona turned into something out of a morning-drive talk-show. How dare this…academic…challenge the man who had changed American government as we knew it? Of course, he got squashed, but he demonstrated that his delusions of grandeur were undying by moving to New Hampshire and challenging incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen. He lost again.
So far, Ocasio-Cortez has shown no signs of the syndrome, which seems to be isolated to some of her more fervent supporters, and, most virulently, to some of her fans elsewhere in the country. (She did allude to the states Bernie Sanders won in a Tweet over the weekend, but that’s pretty obviously a campaign tactic. And even if it’s not, so what? Anti-establishment candidates are as thick as fleas these days, as are Democrats winning in tougher districts.)
Being a freshman member of the House of Representatives is the furthest thing from being a colossus. It’s a terribly frustrating learning experience. Worse, if you’re really going to work for your constituents, you’re going to have to cut deals with members of your own party with whom you have little or nothing in common, some of whom were probably best pals with the guy you beat. Then, you have to make your acolytes realize that this is the only way you can properly do your job. From what I’ve seen, this woman is going to be more than up to the job. Don’t push her. Let the colossus develop in its own good time.
This post has been updated to reflect that Ocasio-Cortez has tweeted referencing states that Sanders won.