To warm up the crowd before President Donald Trump took the stage for a campaign rally in Michigan on Thursday night, his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., laid into the proposed “Green New Deal” as typical of the pie-in-the-sky, price-is-no-concern vision Democrats have for the future of the country.
“AOC Sucks! AOC Sucks!” chanted the crowd on cue.
AOC, in case you have been hiding under a pile of coats for the past year or so, is Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. And the crowd’s reaction on Thursday confirms something that’s become increasingly clear over these past few months: AOC is the new Republican bogeyman (or bogeywoman) of choice.
What do I mean? Well, remember when you were a kid and your parents would scare you into staying in your bed by telling you that if you got up again the bogeyman would get you? (OK, maybe that was just me. But you get the idea.) A bogeyman is a thing that goes bump in the night, the goblin underneath your bed, the Headless Horseman to your Ichabod Crane taking a walk on a lonely dirt road.
In politics, a bogeyman is used to scare people too. To scare them into giving money, to turn out and vote, to stay involved in the political process – for fear that, if they don’t, the bogeyman (or woman) will seize power and make their lives miserable. Republicans have used a number of Democratic bogeymen over the years, from Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy to Bill and Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi. The key for a successful Democratic bogeyman is that (a) the person is well-known to the GOP base and (b) the person makes Republicans angry or scared or ideally both.
Which brings us back to Ocasio-Cortez, who, at first glance, seems an unlikely addition to the long line of bogeymen used by Republicans to raise money and rally their base. After all, AOC has only been in Congress for three months. And, at age 29, she’s the youngest member of the Congress and in a very junior position on virtually every committee on which she is a member.
Despite that lack of seniority, Ocasio-Cortez has rapidly become one of the most prominent members of Congress of either party. Her stunning primary victory over then-Rep. Joe Crowley last summer shocked the political world, drawing national headlines. Her youth, her story (she was bartending and waitressing before deciding to launch a long-shot congressional bid) and her outspoken liberalism (she identifies as a democratic socialist) combined to make her one of the most high-profile House members. Everywhere she goes, she draws massive crowds to hear her speak. Clips of her railing against Republicans on House committees draw millions of clicks. She was on the cover of Time Magazine earlier this month – an unprecedented level of attention for a junior member.
Liberals love AOC’s unapologetic embrace of things like the “Green New Deal” and her willingness to parry with Republicans – both in person and on social media. Republicans regard her as everything wrong with big-government liberals – a belief that bureaucracy can fix everything and the best way to solve a problem is to spend more money on it.
What no one will argue about is that lots of people have an opinion on AOC. Which, in and of itself, is remarkable, given that at this time last year no one outside of her Bronx and Queens district had ever heard of her – and lots of people in the district hadn’t heard her name! A Quinnipiac University poll released earlier this week bears out just how polarizing Ocasio-Cortez is. Almost six in 10 Democrats said that she was a good thing, overall, for the Democratic Party, while 9% said she was a bad thing. Republicans? Fully 72% said AOC was a bad thing for Democrats, while 6% said she was a good thing. In that same poll, 74% of Republicans had an unfavorable view of Ocasio-Cortez while just 2% had a favorable view.
(One fascinating thing: Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to have an opinion on AOC. Just 23% of Republicans didn’t know enough about her to offer an opinion in the Q poll, while 44% of Democrats felt that way.)
Ocasio-Cortez’s belief system, her youth and her outspokenness make her the perfect foil for the President as he prepares to run for a second term. She is the future Democrats want, Trump will argue, a socialist future where government runs everything. And, if Thursday night in Michigan is any indication, the crowd will give Trump exactly the reaction he is seeking.