On Tuesday night, just as the fourth Democratic Primary Debate was coming to a close, the Washington Post reported that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will endorse Senator Bernie Sanders for president. After months of incessant speculation, the endorsement question can finally be laid to rest. Sanders hinted during the debate that a “special guest” will appear at his rally in Queens, NY on Saturday, October 19. Considering the rally is located just outside of AOC’s congressional district but in the borough of Queens, an appearance would be apropos. This announcement came as a surprise to some. Others saw it as her only option. With just three and a half months before the first vote is cast, what does this mean for the democratic primary?
1. Bernie’s Movement Just Got Bigger.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become a leader in her own right. She won her primary election against an incumbent who outspent her 13:1 and had been in office for almost 20 years. Her victory defied the odds and sent shockwaves around the country. Her story ultimately redefined what is possible in American politics.
Since the night of June 26, 2018, AOC (her new moniker) has amassed a loyal following and whirlwind of media attention that politicians could only dream of. Her sphere of influence is extremely powerful thanks to her superior organizing skills. For instance, she spoke out against the misleading and exploitative measures behind the Amazon HQ2 deal. With the steady leadership of the organizers on the ground and the negative hype surrounding the deal, Amazon had no choice but to rescind its offer. In an even stronger display of her influence, her Twitter has over 5.54 million followers, which is more than half of Bernie’s 9.81 million Twitter followers. By communicating his policy ideas through her own voice, she can effectively bring more people into his campaign. Combine this with her coalition building skills, and we can expect her to add a few points to Sanders’ vote totals in just about every primary and/or caucus. This is how they’ll build the progressive movement not only for this primary but for future elections.
2. Identity Politics Will Take a Backseat to Policy Debate.
AOC’s endorsement reminds us of Clinton’s failed call for surface level identity politics. The focus on taking back the White House should not be just about fighting against something, such as Trumpism; it should also be fighting for something, such as progressivism. Sure, her identity as a millennial Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx has garnered her attention, even sometimes making her a target for Trump, but her ideas are what’s leading the party and reshaping the electorate.
AOC’s progressive platform permeates through everything she does. From her beliefs on taxing the rich, to her Twitter spats with Republicans, she’s always on message. With that level of commitment, the Democratic Primary will surely include a lot of AOC’s talking points, policy ideas (ie. a Green New Deal), and criticisms. It’s unclear how exactly they will manifest, but one can assume that future policy proposals, debate performances, or even news stories may focus on AOC’s perspective in order to create an ideological wedge between candidates. At the end of the day, the Democratic Party is on track to have the most progressive platform in its history. No matter the outcome of the primary, Bernie and AOC will make sure that happens.
3. Democratic Socialism is in the Party’s Future.
In the Democratic Primary, all of the candidates have rejected the label of “Democratic Socialist” (except for Sanders). Fearful that it would be misconstrued with communism and the corruptive forces behind socialism in Venezuela, all of the other candidates cling to their capitalist identities. While all of their proposals are rooted in a capitalist approach (except for Andrew Yang’s Freedom Dividend), only Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plans come closest to the values behind Democratic Socialism. However, she stated that she is a “capitalist to her bones.” She even gave a standing ovation when Trump declared “America will never be a socialist country.” By identifying himself as a Democratic Socialist, Bernie greatly distinguished himself from the initial 20+ candidates in the field.
As a fellow Democratic Socialist, AOC is Sanders’ partner in crime. Together, they have raised awareness about the issues plaguing the working class. Now that AOC has endorsed Sanders, her allegiance to the progressive movement is not only solidified, but it positions her well to lead the movement someday after Bernie’s no longer in office. AOC’s endorsement implicitly validates Sanders’ “radical” idea of democratic socialism, making it not so radical but acceptable. The beloved millennial has a precise way of explaining democratic socialism, noting that we must maintain “basic levels of dignity so that no person in America is too poor to live.” AOC’s and Bernie’s messages certainly overlap, thus attracting similarly-ideologically-minded supporters. With their combined power across their platforms, they could single-handedly transform what issues are discussed in the Democratic Primary and the Democratic Party beyond 2020.
4. Could Bernie Be the New Frontrunner?
In order to become a frontrunner in the primary, conventional wisdom would tell us that you need to be polling at the top in national polls and fundraise substantial sums of money (consistently). As of now, Warren has recently eclipsed Biden as the new frontrunner. She is now top of the national polls and leads in many of the early state polls. Additionally, Warren’s campaign reported raising $24.6 million in Q3 donations, which was slightly less than Sanders’ $25.2 million. On top of all that, Warren’s positive media coverage has garnered her a lot of attention. The summation of it all makes her the current frontrunner.
Now that Senator Sanders has been bestowed the most coveted endorsement in the race, all of that could change. After all, AOC is a juggernaut in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Between her expansive social network and policy chops, she can outsmart and outplay any adversary or foe that comes her way. Lending her skills to Sanders leverages his already successful bid for president. For example, AOC raised over $1.43 million in her third quarter alone. Any extra fundraising momentum for Sanders can help him maintain his lead over the pack.
Bernie’s polls numbers didn’t take a tremendous hit after his stent procedure like many predicted. Nonetheless, his favorability rating is bound to increase or stay relatively the same since he has AOC’s support. The polls have never been too kind to Sanders, but he has the potential to rise. AOC’s endorsement might give Sanders the direct bump he needs to stay competitive. If not, then her star power could at least help him sustain a steady flow of press coverage, assuming Bernie may now be seen as the more authentically progressive candidate. If the mainstream media doesn’t embrace his new progressive credentials, then certainly progressive circles around the country will. If last night’s Twitter activity showed us anything, it’s that even if mainstream media’s coverage of AOC’s endorsement disappears after a day, the progressives online will carry it into the weekend just in time for the rally.
Overall, the impact of AOC’s endorsement can have a number of effects. However, it may not be clear as how it affects the vote on night of the Iowa Caucus on February 3, 2020. There is still time before undecided voters head to the polls. Will any candidates drop out? Will any new candidates enter the primary? With this many candidates in the race, anything can happen.