They detest what she stands for. They think her policies would destroy the country. Ad they wish she would just go away.
All the same, many of President Donald Trump’s most media-conscious supporters can’t help but admit it: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has got serious political game.
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“I aspire to be the conservative AOC,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told POLITICO. Gaetz, an outspoken 36-year-old in his second term who has achieved a measure of prominence as a highly isible Trump defender, said there’s just one problem with that aspiration: “I can’t dance for shit.”
“AOC has what I call ‘gameness’ or competitive heart — the combination of grit, determination, fighting spirit that you can’t coach,” Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, told POLITICO. “You either have it or you don’t, and she has it big league.”
Such admiration, in spite of vast ideological and demographic differences, is a testament to just how quickly the 29-year-old former activist and waitress has achieved political stardom. It’s also a sign that many parts of Trump’s playbook — a populist image, an authentic social media presence, a willingness to lash out at mainstream media gatekeepers and fact-checkers, and a lack of deference to party leaders — are becoming enduring features of American politics, rather than some aberration made possible only by Trump’s unique persona or the state of the Republican Party circa 2015.
The president’s most media-savvy supporters recognize Ocasio-Cortez’s approach because it is so similar to Trump’s, a comparison they often make.
“Laughing at Trump, as the libs did, sure stopped him from being POTUS,” the far-right activist Mike Cernovich tweeted in November, adding, “Laughing at AOC, as the cons are doing now, sure is hurting her.”
Since Ocasio-Cortez’s upset of Democratic incumbent Joe Crowley in last summer’s primary, Cernovich has regularly weighed in on her political potential, arguing that she is a left-wing Trump with a better understanding of social media and the benefit of positive coverage from mainstream outlets.
“I think her policies and everything are a disaster but I just look at her effectiveness,” Cernovich said, praising her as an exemplar of the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of will to power. “No one’s more effective than her right now.”
The self-described democratic socialist has also caught the attention of “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams, a prominent pro-Trump voice on social media who began insisting in the summer of 2015 that the real estate mogul would win the presidential election, based in part on his belief that Trump had mastered the principles of hypnosis.
In November, Adams, who has studied the art of persuasion, gave Ocasio-Cortez an A+ grade on her persuasion skills in a tweet. He responded to a skeptic who argued that her appeal was limited by responding, “Same thing was said of Donald Trump in 2015.”
For her part, Ocasio-Cortez, whose staff did not respond to requests for comment, has dismissed the similarities. She told The Hill that likening her to Trump is “irresponsible … given the fact that he’s actively trying to assert mythology and hurt immigrants, and we’re trying to advance a progressive agenda, single-payer health care and a living wage.”
Meanwhile, Ann Coulter, another early Trump believer, has become privately preoccupied with Ocasio-Cortez’s ability to command mass attention, according to a person close to the conservative commentator.
“Terrified is a good word,” said the person. “She’s terrified of her.” The person recounted a recent conversation with Coulter in which, “She was ranting about, ‘AOC’s going to be the next president even if she’s not old enough to run.’” Coulter did not respond to emails requesting comment.
Cernovich dismissed Ocasio-Cortez’s conservative skeptics as “cultists” who are, “the same as Dems who couldn’t see Trump’s methodology.” But not everyone on the right is willing to cede Ocasio-Cortez the status of political prodigy.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, mustered only a backhanded compliment for the young Democratic socialist.
“Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an energetic, enthusiastic, stunningly self-confident person who has the enthusiastic help of much of the liberal media,” he told POLITICO. “Whether uninformed moral self-righteousness and charisma can overcome stunningly false facts will be a real test of how far American education has decayed.”
She has also been the subject of a barrage of critical coverage in conservative media portraying her positions as outlandish, her public statements as fact-challenged and her working-class biography as embellished, among other critiques.
Coverage of the congresswoman on Fox News has become so frequent that she poked fun at the network in a tweet, quoting Spanish-language lyrics from New York band Aventura to suggest Fox has an “obsession” with her.
The White House, meanwhile, has projected nonchalance. Asked last week by Fox’s Sean Hannity to respond to a statement from Ocasio-Cortez calling for drastic action on climate change, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded, “I don’t think we’re going to listen to her on much of anything — particularly not on matters we’re gonna leave in the hands of a much, much higher authority — and certainly, not listen to the freshman congresswoman on when the world may end.”
Asked earlier this month about the congresswoman calling him a racist, Trump shrugged:, “Who cares?”
For some on the populist right, the answer to handling the media-savvy congresswoman lies in the old adage, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” For them, the congresswoman’s ability to rally the left to populist causes could be an opportunity.
Bannon mentioned regulating technology firms and their use of data, as well as confronting China, as possible points of cooperation between Ocasio-Cortez and the populist right.
Coulter, for her part, has taken to Twitter to appeal to the congresswoman directly.
“Ocasio-Cortez wants a 70-80% income tax on the rich. I agree! Start with the Koch Bros. — and also make it WEALTH tax,” she tweeted at the beginning of the month. Last week, Coulter followed up by tweeting a report about financier Ken Griffin making the most expensive home purchase in U.S. history, writing, “Attention Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”