The Daily Mail ran a story this week that should have been a tabloid editor’s dream: The paper sent a reporter to the Florida home of the obscure mother of star congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and he succeeded in getting her talking—and talking—about her daughter. We know how this kind of thing usually ends up. This is how we got President Barack Obama’s aunt, who lived illegally in Boston, telling a reporter that the country has “an obligation” to make her a citizen; this is how we got Neil Bush and Roger Clinton and Billy Carter. It seems that for every polished rising star stepping into the spotlight, there’s a Thomas Markle shuffling along behind her, embarrassing the living daylights out of her in the press.
That is not, however, what the Daily Mail got when it sent gossip columnist and reporter Jose Lambiet to knock on Blanca Ocasio-Cortez’s door in Eustis, Florida. There is no way the savvy Ocasio-Cortez advised her mother to speak to a reporter from the Daily Mail; this reeks of a setup. But instead of a juicy encounter with an off-script relative, the site got what may be the most wholesome political interview of the Trump era.
Lambiet writes that he first found the clerical assistant in her yard, buffing a piece of wood to make a new island for her kitchen. He apparently got her talking, and he returned a few nights later while she was making lasagna for a visiting relative. Here are some of the bombshells that emerged from those two conversations:
• She and her late husband, Sergio, picked the name “Alexandria” for their daughter because it sounded powerful.
• Alexandria was a bright and chatty toddler who aced her pre-K interview.
• Alexandria was very social as a child and teenager. She and her friends turned a shed in the family’s backyard into their clubhouse, cleaning it up and hanging curtains and pictures.
• The family enjoyed a middle-class lifestyle until Sergio died of lung cancer in 2008 but fell into serious debt when he left unpaid medical bills and no life insurance to cover them. Blanca worked two jobs, including one as a housekeeper, to save their house. (This the exact story AOC has told about her background.)
• Shortly before Sergio died, when he could no longer speak, he and Alexandria were sitting together watching an episode of Star Trek: Voyager. At one point, Sergio pointed to Capt. Janeway and then at Alexandria, as if to suggest she, too, would be “someone in charge” someday. Later, the actress who played Janeway, Kate Mulgrew, made an appearance at one of Alexandria’s campaign rallies.
• Blanca adores Alexandria’s longtime boyfriend, Riley Roberts, and hopes they get married, though they haven’t mentioned any plans to do so.
• Blanca finds her daughter’s success “surreal.”
The only minor grist for the scandal mill was BOC’s offhand explanation for why she moved to Florida from New York: “I was paying $10,000 a year in real estate taxes up north. I’m paying $600 a year in Florida. It’s stress-free down here.” Conservatives have latched onto that as a scathing indictment of New York’s high taxes. Fox and the New York Post covered it, and conservative dingus Charlie Kirk went the extra mile by pumping the $10,000 up to $100,000 in an anti-AOC tweet that has been retweeted 14,000 times without correction. For what it’s worth, Blanca says she paid $87,000 for her “crumbling” home in Florida, on a dead-end street with a cemetery at the end and at least one house where drug deals went down. This is a possible clue to the decline in her taxes and other expenses. I’m sure Kirk will be moving next door soon.
It’s not surprising that the site tracked Blanca down and tried to wring some content out of her. The British-based Daily Mail, which launched its popular U.S. site in the early 2010s, covers the freshman congresswoman obsessively. Just in the past week, DailyMail.com has run stories about Instagram videos that may suggest Ocasio-Cortez moved into her new apartment in November instead of February, an Federal Election Commission complaint filed against her chief of staff, and her appearance at the New York premiere of a documentary about her campaign (“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Laps Up the Applause … ”). In many stories, fumes of inchoate contempt practically waft off the screen. “ ‘AOC’, as she likes to call herself, bows to nobody in self-adoration,” columnist Piers Morgan harrumphed on the British version of the site in January. Morgan called her “the J-Lo of Washington,” listed the sticker price of an outfit she wore in a photo shoot, and retold a story about his own Twitter spat with Ariana Grande (Ocasio-Cortez retweeted Grande, see). The column was a mess, but a good assemblage of the kinds of criticism the Daily Mail is experimenting with.
Needless to say, all of these stories are accompanied by many, many large photos of the beautiful, charismatic young congresswoman. But the site hasn’t quite settled on an argument against her. Is she corrupt? Entitled? Fancier than she claims? So far, nothing has seemed to stick. With the Mail’s tabloid DNA and populist-conservative ethos, editors surely hoped for something meaty when it got Blanca Ocasio-Cortez talking. Instead it got a hardworking middle-aged woman making semi-homemade lasagna in her kitchen, a jar of Ragu on the counter and a familiarly charming smile on her face.