It is the last scene, the most famous one, from the 1972 movie “The Candidate.”
Robert Redford’s character, Bill McKay, having essentially given up all of his beliefs for a Senate seat, is alone in a room with his campaign manager as reporters clamor outside. It was the existential cry of the politician with no morals left to bargain with: “What do we do now?”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez must have watched that in school at some point, probably when her U.S. History teacher decided they wanted some time to mark papers.
AOC’s was a different story, though. She would be unique.
After she won a shock victory in a primary, there wasn’t much of a general election to speak of. She didn’t have the Bill McKay problem. All she had to do was smile along with Stephen Colbert and things would be fine.
Fifteen months after being sworn in as a U.S. congresswoman, AOC is having her Bill McKay moment.
The troublesome thing with her is that she isn’t even at the point where she’s asking her campaign manager what she does now. We’re maybe at the beginning of the third act.
Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becoming part of the establishment?
85% (115 Votes)
15% (20 Votes)
The piece, by Alex Thompson and Holly Otterbein, noted at the outset that Ocasio-Cortez has done significantly less campaigning for candidates willing to primary sitting members of Congress, something she and other far-left politicians aligned with the Justice Democrats were known for during the 2018 cycle. (That’s how she got into office, after all.)
In 2018, for instance, she was on the stump for St. Louis-area candidate Cori Bush, who lost a primary to a garden-variety liberal, Rep. William “Lacy” Clay. Bush is taking him on again, but this time with no support from AOC — who’s only backed two primary challengers endorsed by the Justice Democrats this cycle. Those are Jessica Cisneros in Texas and Marie Newman in Illinois, both of whom had some support from the establishment wing of the party because their opponents were pro-life.
“Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement moves are not a fluke but part of a larger change over the past several months,” the article read.
“After her disruptive, burn-it-down early months in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez, who colleagues say is often conflict-averse in person, has increasingly been trying to work more within the system. She is building coalitions with fellow Democratic members and picking her fights more selectively.”
That’s not exactly how you win an insurgent candidacy against an establishment figure, but once you win the election — a lot like Bill McKay did in “The Candidate” — it doesn’t necessarily make much sense to continue being an insurgent.
Also gone are her plans for a “corporate-free” caucus along the lines of the House Freedom Caucus for Republicans, and presumably not just because “Corporate-Free Caucus” only sounds appealing to the kind of person who finds “Democracy Now!” exciting.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with whom she was once feuding bitterly, is now referred to by AOC as the “mama bear of the Democratic Party,” words that don’t sound like they were crafted by AOC herself.
And look at who’s speaking favorably of AOC now: “The Democratic Party is the party of coalitions, not a cult,” James Carville, the hypercaffeinated political hack best known for his work with Clinton, Inc., said of the new AOC. “I’ve observed her. I think she’s really talented, that she’s really smart. Maybe she is — I don’t speak for her — coming to the conclusion that she wants to be part of the coalition.”
Didn’t see that partnership coming, did you?
Center for American Progress head Neera Tanden, meanwhile, told Politico that AOC’s shift is “a sign of leadership.”
“There are some people on the left who thought that their views represented a strong majority, and the primary process has shown that voters diverged, that [Bernie] Sanders is winning a minority and smaller minority than he had four years ago,” Tanden said.
The congresswoman’s supporters are torn, Thompson and Otterbein said, between embracing the new AOC and discounting this as the behavior of a sell-out. One imagines nothing is so divisive as her relationship with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 Democratic candidate for president.
AOC endorsed Sanders and had been one of his most effective surrogates out on the campaign trail. However, on March 13, HuffPost reported that several sources within the Sanders campaign confirmed Ocasio-Cortez refused to campaign with Sanders after the New Hampshire primary.
“It was like pulling teeth to get her to New Hampshire,” a source told HuffPo. They managed to get her up there once for a rally the day before the Feb. 12 primary. Between then and March 8 — several days after Sanders’ Super Tuesday losses — she wouldn’t return to the campaign trail for Bernie.
Part of it, the HuffPost article postulated, was because of podcaster Joe Rogan’s endorsement of Sanders (and Sanders’ subsequent embrace of the endorsement). Rogan isn’t profoundly woke and often veers into politically incorrect territory, which led to plenty of grousing from more progressive quarters of the party.
And then there was the matter of a January speech in which Ocasio-Cortez declined to mention Sanders by name as she closed, a fact which Vanity Fair said led to a nastygram text from Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir.
She also chastised the “Bernie Bros” over their penchant for online harassment and tacitly went after Sanders and the progressive movement for being too “conflict-based” — which is, last I had checked, what she had built her brand on.
There have also been two major staff departures from AOC’s team: chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti and communications director Corbin Trent.
Chakrabarti, co-founder of the Justice Democrats, was behind much of that primarying and had called some moderate members of the Democratic caucus “new Southern Democrats.” Trent, meanwhile, reportedly didn’t just want AOC to push for “Medicare for All” but rather a completely nationalized health care system like Britain’s National Health Service.
In short, AOC doesn’t necessarily want to be Bernie Sanders. One might guess she saw the writing on the wall before things began to fall apart in South Carolina or officially disintegrated on Super Tuesday. On the other hand, there’s not a whole lot to set her apart from other first-term members of Congresss other than the fact that she’s off-the-spectrum far left.
However, what should be clear from reports is that it’s difficult to make points by railing against the establishment when you’re quickly becoming part of the establishment.
She’s gone from hate-tweeting Nancy Pelosi to calling her “mama bear.” That’s quite the fast track — becoming a D.C. sell-out in just 15 months.
It all raises the question: What does she do now?
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.