Shortly after Joe Biden became the president-elect, the most famous voice on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party officially ended what had been an evidently uncomfortable truce with the party’s establishment. In a far-ranging, combative interview with the New York Times, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expressed deep frustrations with the Democratic Party at a time when some have started to point the finger at the progressives and the causes they champion for the worse-than-expected showing in congressional races. The truth is exactly the opposite, Ocasio-Cortez said. If Democrats fail to take progressive issues seriously and recognize that it was grassroots activists who managed to get Biden elected, then they will once again suffer big losses in the midterm elections.
The finger-pointing at progressive causes for losses at the ballot box is designed to hide the way in which the party lacks “core competencies” to run campaigns and still struggles to catch up, particularly when it comes to grassroots organizing and online advertising, she said. “There’s a reason Barack Obama built an entire national campaign apparatus outside of the Democratic National Committee,” she told the Times’ Astead Herndon. “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.”
Some of the failures of the party are “criminal,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “It’s malpractice.” Analyzing several of the campaigns that lost, Ocasio-Cortez saw that many failed to pursue a real strategy of online advertising and recruitment that didn’t leave them so vulnerable to Republican attacks. “Our party isn’t even online, not in a real way that exhibits competence,” she said.
In one of the most surprising portions of the interview, an evidently exasperated Ocasio-Cortez revealed that most swing state Democrats rejected her offer of help in their campaigns. “I offered to help every single swing district Democrat with their operation. And every single one of them, but five, refused my help,” she said. “And all five of the vulnerable or swing district people that I helped secured victory or are on a path to secure victory. And every single one that rejected my help is losing. And now they’re blaming us for their loss.” Although it wasn’t included in the interview, Herndon tweeted that Ocasio-Cortez did name the five on the record, but it was cut for space: Jahana Hayes from Connecticut; Katie Porter, TJ Cox, and Mike Levin from California; and Peter DeFazio from Oregon.
Ocasio-Cortez’s frustration with the establishment has led her to consider getting out of politics, she said. In a not-so-subtle warning to Biden, Ocasio-Cortez said that the first appointments he unveils will make it clear whether his administration will take demands of progressives seriously. “These transition appointments, they send a signal,” she said. “They tell a story of who the administration credits with this victory.”
The interview with the Times came shortly after Ocasio-Cortez started pushing back against the narrative that progressive causes were to blame for Democrats falling short of expectations in the election. In a series of tweets on Friday, Ocasio-Cortez said she “decided to open the hood on struggling campaigns” and found they “all had awful execution on digital,” a particularly galling oversight during a pandemic.