Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement of Bernie Sanders is a huge win for him and a way for her to hit back at the Democratic Party
- Sen. Bernie Sanders scored a big win during Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate, as news of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement of his 2020 presidential run broke.
- The move is a shrewd one for Ocasio-Cortez, as it demonstrates she's not softening her political tactics or looking to appease the Democratic establishment by playing the inside game.
- "Placating party leaders will do little to help Ocasio-Cortez achieve the kind of transformative changes she wants," wrote Jacobin magazine. "She seems to understand this."
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Sen. Bernie Sanders scored a big win during Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate.
But the boost wasn't just a result of his performance on stage, which was generally well-received. It came largely from the news that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her two fellow progressive congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar would endorse his candidacy.
Democratic strategists across the spectrum agreed that Ocasio-Cortez's endorsement, in particular, is a strategic win for Sanders, particularly on the heels of his recent heart attack and following months of stagnant and even declining support for him in national polls.
"I think it's smart for the Sanders campaign to roll this out now," Rodell Mollineau, a DC-based Democratic strategist and consultant, told Insider. "He is losing market share to Warren and his recent health problems are fresh in the minds of voters and the media."
The endorsements came as a surprise, even to progressive insiders, who thought Ocasio-Cortez would wait longer to decide between the two most progressive candidates in the race: Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Ocasio-Cortez has long been a Sanders supporter and volunteered for his 2016 campaign in her home district. But the congresswoman has also voiced strong support for Warren, who she's similarly co-sponsored legislation with.
Some see the endorsements as proof that Sanders has no intention of dropping out of the race and is instead redoubling his efforts.
"Bernie Sanders not only delivered a strong debate performance, but he and his campaign showed that they are not messing around," Rebecca Katz, a progressive New York-based strategist, told Insider. "With the money and energy he's got behind him, Bernie is showing he's going to be in this race for a long, long time."
Proving progressive credentials
Sanders supporters reacted with elation to the news.
The socialist magazine Jacobin argued the endorsement made "perfect sense" for the two democratic socialists to join forces. Writers Meagan Day and Nick French pointed out that Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are more closely aligned on both policy, including Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and on political philosophy, namely undermining what they believe is a corporate-backed Democratic establishment.
"It's tempting to think that staying neutral is the best 'long game' for advancing her political agenda," they wrote of Ocasio-Cortez. "But placating party leaders will do little to help Ocasio-Cortez achieve the kind of transformative changes she wants. She seems to understand this."
Progressive commentators and activists argued that Ocasio-Cortez's move is evidence that she's not softening her political tactics or looking to appease the Democratic establishment by playing the inside game. Instead, she's proving her dedication to the political revolution Sanders has long called for.
"I definitely thought she was going to sort of hold off and let it play out," Sean McElwee, a progressive pollster and activist, told Insider. "I think people should just take more seriously the idea that AOC really cares about the ideas and the policies and has views on
Over the summer, Ocasio-Cortez pushed out her controversial former chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, and moved her chief spokesman, Corbin Trent, to her campaign team. Chakrabarti helped provoke a racially-charged rift in the party earlier this year when he publicly criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other more moderate Democrats, in part for backing an immigration funding bill.
Ocasio-Cortez also brought Ariel Eckblad, a former aide to the more moderate Sen. Kamala Harris, on as her legislative director early this year.
But the Bronx native has publicly pushed back on reporting that she's adapting to Washington's rules, calling the characterization condescending.
"There will always be powerful interest in promoting the idea that the left is losing power 1 way or another," she tweeted in response to a September New York Times article titled, "How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Learned to Play by Washington's Rules."
The congresswoman implied that fellow Democrats, and perhaps the media, are attempting to undermine her by accusing her of capitulating to their demands. She added, "The big way they try to dismantle the left isn't to attack it, but to gaslight & deflate it."
The move has worried some on Team Warren and it's unclear how it will end up impacting the primary race. While Ocasio-Cortez's is widely viewed as the most important so far this cycle, the importance of endorsements can be overstated.
Polling over the next few weeks will reveal whether the move, combined with Sanders' strong debate performance, has boosted his candidacy. And much relies on how the Sanders campaign uses the congresswomen as surrogates throughout the course of the next several months.
"More important than the endorsement is how it's leveraged," Mollineau said. "Should AOC use her massive social media platform to influence her followers and rebuild enthusiasm around Sanders, this endorsement could be a boon to his campaign."