Elections

Warren’s Campaign Was Doomed the Moment Ocasio-Cortez Endorsed Sanders

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduces Sen. Bernie Sanders at the “Bernie’s Back” rally at Queensbridge Park in New York City, October 19, 2019. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez says she wants to be part of a mass movement. It might be more accurate to say that she wants to lead it.

Since Elizabeth Warren dropped out from the 2020 Democratic race, we have been treated to a litany of articles lamenting her departure. Many of the writers predictably decried sexism as the cause of Warren’s failure to win the Democratic Party nomination.

Megan Garber of The Atlantic argued: “One of the truisms of the 2020 campaign — just as it was a truism in 2016, and in 2008 — is that women candidates are punished, still, for public displays of ambition. . . . When women are the ones doing the promoting, the tension gets ratcheted up.” Over at The Nation, Elie Mystal stated, “Sexism played a role in the failure of all her arguments.” Salon’s Amanda Marcotte reserved her contempt for tens of thousands of Democratic voters. “Americans apparently couldn’t see that she is a once-in-a-generation talent and reward her for it with the presidency. That is a shameful blight on us,” wrote Marcotte. “We responded as we so often do for women who go above the call of duty: We thanked her for her service and promoted less qualified men above her.”

However, not every writer under the sun was buying the sexism argument. In a piece for Commentary, Christine Rosen laid out the cold hard facts:

The real reason Warren’s campaign foundered was more mundane: She failed to win supporters among non-white, non-college educated Democratic voters. Her fan base was always made up of the same kind of people who dominate the national media: well-educated, progressive-leaning white people. News flash: This is not the majority of America, nor even the majority of self-identified Democratic voters. This is why she couldn’t even win over female Democratic voters in her own state.

After all, Massachusetts voters had elected Warren to the Senate twice. They didn’t suddenly become knuckle-dragging chauvinists overnight. Nor were voters in neighboring New Hampshire. While only 10 percent of female voters in the Granite State cast ballots for Warren, it’s hard to take claims of sexism seriously when 23 percent of New Hampshire voters cast ballots for Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, the same total earned by primary winner Bernie Sanders.

The most striking disparity for Warren concerns not gender but ideology. While progressives might not be the majority in America, they do constitute a critical mass of the Democratic Party. In New Hampshire, Sanders outpolled Warren among liberal voters by 20 points (33 to 13 percent) and nearly 30 points by very liberal voters (48 to 19 percent). In Iowa, liberal voters preferred Sanders over Warren by nearly 10 points (38 to 29 percent), while very liberal voters preferred him over Warren by nearly 15 points (44 to 31 percent). In Nevada, somewhat liberal voters preferred Sanders over Warren by nearly a two-to-one margin (31 to 16 percent), while very liberal voters preferred him over Warren by more than a three-to-one margin (52 to 17 percent). Somewhat liberal voters in South Carolina preferred Sanders over Warren by more than a two-to-one margin (25 to 11 percent), while very liberal voters preferred him over Warren by nearly a two-to-one margin (30 to 16 percent).

These results are worth mentioning because none of the aforementioned postmortems of Warren’s failed presidential bid made any mention of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to endorse Bernie Sanders. To ignore AOC’s endorsement of Sanders over Warren is to ignore the Democratic Party’s evolution from a liberal to a democratic-socialist political party and her influence on that evolution.

Warren had been leading in the national polls. After AOC’s endorsement, Warren led in only one more national poll, and by mid December her numbers would never again be better than Bernie’s. As Lissandra Villa put it in Time, “For many in Iowa, Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement of Sanders reads as a kind of shorthand: Sanders is the candidate true liberals can trust.” As it turned out, this was the case for true liberals in multiple states.

This was not necessarily a foregone conclusion. There had been signs that AOC could endorse Warren. In March 2019, the two had a high-profile meeting on Capitol Hill. A month later, Warren penned a paean for AOC on the “Time 100” list. “A year ago, she was taking orders across a bar,” wrote Warren. “Today, millions are taking cues from her.” No doubt Warren hoped one of those cues would be an endorsement of her as a presidential nominee.

AOC’s preference of Sanders over Warren came as no surprise to Meagan Day and Nick French. In a coauthored article in Jacobin, Day and French find sexism to be a superficial argument for why working-class voters prefer Sanders over Warren:

Many pundits have downplayed the substantive differences between Warren and Sanders, with some going so far as to claim that the only reason to prefer Sanders over Warren is sexism. But the differences between Warren and Sanders are clear to anyone who’s paying attention: Warren’s more hawkish foreign policy stances, her relative openness to taking big donor money, and her reassurances to the Democratic Party establishment that she has no intention of staging a coup — precisely Ocasio-Cortez’s project from the beginning.

Explaining her endorsement of Sanders, AOC told NBC News, “For me, it wasn’t even about helping the senator. It was a moment of clarity for me personally in saying, What role do I want to play? And I want to be a part of a mass movement.” Well, one could argue that it would be more accurate to say that AOC wants to lead this mass movement. Unless Sanders were elected president, AOC could get a chance to lead this mass movement as early as 2024. AOC would not have this opportunity (if ever she does have it) if she had endorsed Warren.

When the 2020 Democratic race is said and done, AOC’s endorsement of Sanders might not be enough to deny Joe Biden the party’s nomination, but it was enough to thwart Elizabeth Warren’s presidential ambitions. There is every reason to believe that, had AOC given Warren her endorsement, the Massachusetts senator would still be in the race, and accusations of sexism would have to be saved for another day.

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