Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Biden’s Win, House Losses, and What’s Next for the Left

November 12, 2020 by stephenshubert

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke outside her campaign office in the Bronx on Election Day.

Astead W. Herndon

  • Nov. 7, 2020

For months, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been a good soldier for the Democratic Party and Joseph R. Biden Jr. as he sought to defeat President Trump.

But on Saturday, in a nearly hourlong interview shortly after President-elect Biden was declared the winner, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez made clear the divisions within the party that animated the primary still exist. And she dismissed recent criticisms from some Democratic House members who have blamed the party’s left for costing them important seats. Some of the members who lost, she said, had made themselves “sitting ducks.”

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

We finally have a fuller understanding of the results. What’s your macro takeaway?

Well, I think the central one is that we aren’t in a free fall to hell anymore. But whether we’re going to pick ourselves up or not is the lingering question. We paused this precipitous descent. And the question is if and how we will build ourselves back up.

We know that race is a problem, and avoiding it is not going to solve any electoral issues. We have to actively disarm the potent influence of racism at the polls.

But we also learned that progressive policies do not hurt candidates. Every single candidate that co-sponsored Medicare for All in a swing district kept their seat. We also know that co-sponsoring the Green New Deal was not a sinker. Mike Levin was an original co-sponsor of the legislation, and he kept his seat.

To your first point, Democrats lost seats in an election where they were expected to gain them. Is that what you are ascribing to racism and white supremacy at the polls?

I think it’s going to be really important how the party deals with this internally, and whether the party is going to be honest about doing a real post-mortem and actually digging into why they lost. Because before we even had any data yet in a lot of these races, there was already finger-pointing that this was progressives’ fault and that this was the fault of the Movement for Black Lives.

I’ve already started looking into the actual functioning of these campaigns. And the thing is, I’ve been unseating Democrats for two years. I have been defeating Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee-run campaigns for two years. That’s how I got to Congress. That’s how we elected Ayanna Pressley. That’s how Jamaal Bowman won. That’s how Cori Bush won. And so we know about extreme vulnerabilities in how Democrats run campaigns.

And I’ve looked through a lot of these campaigns that lost, and the fact of the matter is if you’re not spending $200,000 on Facebook with fund-raising, persuasion, volunteer recruitment, get-out-the-vote the week before the election, you are not firing on all cylinders. And not a single one of these campaigns were firing on all cylinders.

Well, Conor Lamb did win. So what are you saying: Investment in digital advertising and canvassing are a greater reason moderate Democrats lost than any progressive policy?

These folks are pointing toward Republican messaging that they feel killed them, right? But why were you so vulnerable to that attack?

If you’re not door-knocking, if you’re not on the internet, if your main points of reliance are TV and mail, then you’re not running a campaign on all cylinders. I just don’t see how anyone could be making ideological claims when they didn’t run a full-fledged campaign.

Our party isn’t even online, not in a real way that exhibits competence. And so, yeah, they were vulnerable to these messages, because they weren’t even on the mediums where these messages were most potent. Sure, you can point to the message, but they were also sitting ducks. They were sitting ducks.

There’s a reason Barack Obama built an entire national campaign apparatus outside of the Democratic National Committee. And there’s a reason that when he didn’t activate or continue that, we lost House majorities. Because the party — in and of itself — does not have the core competencies, and no amount of money is going to fix that.

If I lost my election, and I went out and I said: “This is moderates’ fault. This is because you didn’t let us have a floor vote on Medicare for all.” And they opened the hood on my campaign, and they found that I only spent $5,000 on TV ads the week before the election? They would laugh. And that’s what they look like right now trying to blame the Movement for Black Lives for their loss.

Is there anything from Tuesday that surprised you? Or made you rethink your previously held views?

The share of white support for Trump. I thought the polling was off, but just seeing it, there was that feeling of realizing what work we have to do.

We need to do a lot of anti-racist, deep canvassing in this country. Because if we keep losing white shares and just allowing Facebook to radicalize more and more elements of white voters and the white electorate, there’s no amount of people of color and young people that you can turn out to offset that.

But the problem is that right now, I think a lot of Dem strategy is to avoid actually working through this. Just trying to avoid poking the bear. That’s their argument with defunding police, right? To not agitate racial resentment. I don’t think that is sustainable.

There’s a lot of magical thinking in Washington, that this is just about special people that kind of come down from on high. Year after year, we decline the idea that they did work and ran sophisticated operations in favor of the idea that they are magical, special people. I need people to take these goggles off and realize how we can do things better.

If you are the D.C.C.C., and you’re hemorrhaging incumbent candidates to progressive insurgents, you would think that you may want to use some of those firms. But instead, we banned them. So the D.C.C.C. banned every single firm that is the best in the country at digital organizing.

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