If you’re coming to this late and wondering from the headline whether Ocasio-Cortez might have bailed on Sanders once his campaign started to tank, you’re thinking logically — but incorrectly. This isn’t a “rats off a sinking ship” thing. AOC started inching away weeks before Biden’s game-changing win in South Carolina, back when Bernie was steaming ahead towards the Democratic nomination. Usually that’s a moment when politicians clamber onto a ship, not off. So why did she scamper?
My theory all along has been that Team Sanders saw something in their internal polling that made them leery of having her on the trail. Maybe her radicalism polled badly with undecided Democratic voters in states like New Hampshire and Nevada and they politely asked her to lie low for awhile. She *has* done occasional events for Sanders since then, appearing at a rally for him earlier this week in Michigan. But she hasn’t been nearly as visible on the trail as she was this past winter, raising the question of why.
The answer, per HuffPost, seems to be that … Bernie Sanders isn’t as radical as she’d prefer.
Read that sentence again. Let it sink in.
Although the Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez teams would not say whether Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to avoid the trail reflected any dispute, the first source said a disagreement over Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks in Iowa seemed to cool her on helping with the campaign.
At a rally in Ames on Jan. 25, Ocasio-Cortez delivered a speech in which she failed to mention Sanders’ name ― an omission that Fox News noticed and highlighted. She also encouraged those in attendance to tip off people about the presence of immigration enforcement authorities in their communities to help undocumented immigrants evade detention.
As Vanity Fair first reported in February, Shakir communicated to Ocasio-Cortez his dissatisfaction over her remarks about alerting the presence of immigration authorities. While Sanders has sought to scrap and restructure the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in its current form, his campaign has been trying to avoid the impression that it was encouraging noncooperation with federal law as it exists, according to one source.
After that, Ocasio-Cortez ― already annoyed with the campaign’s Jan. 23 decision to publicize the endorsement of controversial podcast host Joe Rogan ― grew less interested in helping Sanders’ campaign, according to the source.
“It was like pulling teeth to get her to New Hampshire,” said one source to HuffPost.
He may be a socialist. He may support Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. His campaign may have come closer than anything else in American history to facilitating a progressive takeover of a major party. But he’s just not quite woke enough on open borders to keep Ocasio-Cortez happy, it seems. The irony is, although Bernie has always been a not-so-secret skeptic of illegal immigration for class reasons, he’s largely come around on mouthing modern leftist platitudes about its many splendors. And he, more than virtually any other major politician in America, usually doesn’t compromise on his principles even when doing so would benefit him electorally. One of his rare concessions this year to “electability,” it seems, was asking surrogates politely to not encourage people to undermine ICE’s work by tipping off illegals to the agency’s presence in U.S. communities. You would think AOC would have cut him a break on that considering how forceful he’s been in defense of the rest of her agenda.
Nope. Big problem, it appears. As was Sanders touting the endorsement of, er, one of the most popular talk-show hosts in America, Joe Rogan.
There’s another irony. I’ve seen Ocasio-Cortez praised lately for her conspicuous refusal to attack Elizabeth Warren for not endorsing Sanders. Bernie and his ‘bros have been shredded by critics over the past two weeks during Biden’s rise for not doing nearly enough to build a broader coalition of Democratic support over the past four years, but AOC seems shrewder in that regard.
But Mr. Sanders’s highest-profile surrogate, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, said she understood Ms. Warren’s hesitation, and suggested it was a teachable moment for the left.
“I always want to see us come together as a progressive wing,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said. “I think that’s important and where we draw strength from. But at the same time, I come from the lens of an organizer, and if someone doesn’t do what you want, you don’t blame them — you ask why. And you don’t demand that answer of that person — you reflect. And that reflection is where you can grow.”
Sensible — but where was that pragmatic attitude in her rift with Sanders? She had an opportunity to advance the progressive cause by working aggressively to help him win the Democratic nomination. If he beat Trump, the socialist revolution would have arrived in full flower as a political force. Even if he ended up losing to Trump, having a socialist as the party’s nominee would have moved the Overton window on the movement’s national viability and ignited a million stories about the power and potential of hard-leftism going forward. AOC would be an even more significant political figure than she is now, a sort of avatar of next-gen lefty populism at the very moment that it had finally gone mainstream nationally. She had very good pragmatic reasons to go all-in on Bernie. But she didn’t. If you believe HuffPost’s account of why, it’s one of the most amazing cases of a pol letting the perfect be the enemy of the good that I can remember.
I always look for Machiavellian subplots in political maneuvering and am tempted to speculate that AOC may have concluded that a Bernie loss would be in her long-term political interest. But that’s a hard argument. The idea would be that Sanders’s defeat would leave the hard left scrambling to find a new leader for the movement, someone potentially more electable in a more diverse America than a 78-year-old white guy with a heart condition. There’s an obvious candidate. But that theory doesn’t track with Ocasio-Cortez’s behavior. If she wanted Bernie to tank, she could have declined to endorse him last fall — or even endorsed Warren, to make life harder for him. Once she did endorse him, it was in her own interest to see him succeed in the primary and prove that “democratic socialist” isn’t a brand that’s destined to get routed at the polls once more racially diverse states start voting. I don’t think there’s any Machiavellian angle here. I think it’s a straightforward matter of her being annoyed that he’s not as woke as she’d like.
Here she is yesterday on Fox News(!) claiming that Biden’s big win in Michigan was largely a product of … voter suppression. By the Democratic Party, I guess. Bear in mind, not only did Biden win the state by more than 260,000 votes, Bernie got nearly as many votes there this year (575,000) as he did in 2016 (595,000). The reason why the latter was a narrow win and the former a massive loss is because Biden ran up the score with suburbanites and flipped some of Sanders’s working-class white support. Bernie’s support wasn’t suppressed. He just got beat.
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) March 12, 2020