Via the Daily Beast, it’s very “America 2019” that we’re gaming out presidential prospects for someone who’s worked in government for eight days.
Yes, yes, Harris Faulkner’s guilty of an innocent goof here, forgetting that AOC is still years away from the constitutional age of eligibility. Even so, I’d be keen to see some polling on how she stacks up against the rest of the Dems’ 2020 primary field. She’s often compared to Trump and Palin (including by me) in terms of her overnight political superstardom but both of those comparisons are unfair to her. Trump was a household name for decades before he ran for president. Palin is a better analogue, but she was a mayor and then governor of Alaska for two years before landing on the national ticket. Ocasio-Cortez was a total nobody until June 26th of last year, when she stunned Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary in NY-14. We’re not seven months removed from that and she’s already probably the most well-known figure in the House apart from Nancy Pelosi, with Twitter followers in excess of two million. Presidential candidates emulate her social-media gimmicks. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this rocket launch since I started following politics after 9/11.
Her fans chatter about her running for president eventually, because that’s where all political ambitions lie nowadays. It makes a certain sense: After Obama and Trump, I’m convinced that we’ll never again elect a president in my lifetime who doesn’t enjoy a weirdly intense personality cult. It would take a better student of history than me to explain why political and cultural trends have drifted that way, where a likable but not messianic figure like George W. Bush just wouldn’t hack it as a would-be presidential nominee anymore. Maybe I’m wrong and he would; Hillary Clinton, a charisma black hole, won the popular vote in 2016, after all. Maybe the AOC fanatics, of which there are many on Twitter, will lose interest over time. I think there’s a strong sense within both parties, though, that the country is in decline, that it’s been in decline for a long time, and that the decline is probably irreversible — but that *if* there’s any chance of reversing it then it’ll take a superhuman heaven-sent figure delivered unto the people to do it. The lord hath delivered AOC unto progressives in their hour of need, after delivering … Trump to the right a few years ago.
If I’m correct then congratulations to President Beto O’Rourke!
But I’m probably overstating it. Maybe the drift towards personality cults isn’t due to anxiety about decline. Maybe it’s due to something simpler, the cultural divergence of the two parties. The more each election becomes a holy war of clashing values, the more you’d logically want some sort of hyper-charismatic figure who embodies those values leading the army into battle. We’re way beyond policy disputes. National elections are now a battle of avatars. If your party didn’t nominate an avatar then don’t expect to win.
I don’t know if AOC will bother running for the big office in 2024, as some expect. Her age would be a major, major liability; she’d be 34 for most of the campaign, far and away the youngest would-be president in U.S. history. And no one with a congressional pedigree has won the presidency in many years having attained no higher office than a seat in the House. (Cancel those congratulations for Beto O’Rourke.) If I were Kirsten Gillibrand — or Chuck Schumer? — I’d be worried about an Ocasio-Cortez Senate primary at some point. That’d be risky for AOC, as New Yorkers proved last year with Andrew Cuomo that they’ll reflexively support even the most garbage incumbents against a stalwart progressive with some media buzz. But Ocasio-Cortez isn’t any ol’ progressive. And Gillibrand and Schumer are both highly underwhelming politicians. It’ll be fun.