The Memo: No, really — What if Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez runs for president?

·6 min read

As President Biden’s approval ratings sink and polls show many Democratic voters would prefer a different nominee in 2024, some activists are beginning to entertain long-shot options.

When it comes to unlikely-but-not-impossible scenarios, one is far more intriguing than any other: a presidential bid by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

An Ocasio-Cortez campaign would electrify her fans and detractors alike.

Right now, the Beltway consensus is that it’s out of the question.

But is it?

Ocasio-Cortez has conspicuously declined to commit to endorsing Biden for a second term. In a CNN interview last month, she told Dana Bash, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

The New York congresswoman, who shot to fame in 2018 when she defeated then-Rep. Joseph Crowley in a Democratic primary, is already a fundraising juggernaut. She could easily raise the funds to run a competitive campaign. She also has an enormous social media following — more than 13 million followers on Twitter alone.

Pollsters have begun testing her name among other far more seasoned figures and, while the levels of support are modest for now, she is plainly in the mix.

An Echelon Insights poll this month, asking Democratic-leaning voters who they would support if Biden eschewed a second term, put her in sixth place — but in a tightly bunched group of candidates, only 2 percentage points behind third-placed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Vice President Harris and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg led that poll.

Earlier this week, a University of New Hampshire poll asked Democratic voters in the Granite State who would be their first choice as a 2024 presidential nominee, including Biden as an option.

The headlines went to Buttigieg, who edged out Biden by a single point at the top of the poll. But Ocasio-Cortez was again competitive with contenders who are taken far more seriously. She trailed Harris by only a single percentage point.

The Washington Post this month ranked her 10th, including Biden, in a list of the most likely Democratic nominees in 2024.

Even if an Ocasio-Cortez bid seems in the realm of fantasy to D.C.’s consultant class, it’s a fantasy that plenty of progressive voters would like to see come true.

“We’re just tired of the inequality. Candidates constantly say ‘We’ll bring wages up’ or ‘We’ll tax the rich’ but never do,” one such supporter, Joseph Cox of Tampa, told this column.

Cox supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during his 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns and said he was still open to a third candidacy from the senator. But, absent a Sanders candidacy, the 39-year-old Cox is on board with an Ocasio-Cortez bid.

Two other factors suggest an Ocasio-Cortez campaign shouldn’t be written off out of hand.

First: Yes, she is old enough to run. The minimum age to be president is 35. Ocasio-Cortez will celebrate her 35th birthday roughly three weeks before Election Day 2024.

The second is that she has long leveled a broad critique of the Democratic Party leadership in Washington — in summary, that it is too cozy with rich, powerful interests and not responsive enough to the needs of its own voters.

“Some may want to go after the messenger, but we simply cannot make promises, hector people to vote, and then refuse to use our full power when they do,” she tweeted on June 26, soon after the Supreme Court had struck down Roe v. Wade.

What better way to force a reset of her party, and of politics generally, than running for the highest office — especially if Biden voluntarily relinquishes it?

To be sure, there are plenty of arguments to be made against Ocasio-Cortez in 2024.

For a start, if Biden seeks a second term, a divisive primary could be disastrous.

Even if he does not, the congresswoman faces real challenges, including her youth and her apparent unpopularity with big swaths of the electorate.

When an Economist-YouGov poll tested her favorability ratings in early May, they found her popular with young voters but very unpopular among independent voters — never mind Republicans.

Just 23 percent of independents viewed her favorably against 54 percent who held an unfavorable opinion.

Even among left-wing strategists broadly supportive of her goals, there is deep skepticism about a White House bid.

Progressive strategist Jonathan Tasini said he is a “huge fan” of Ocasio-Cortez and noted that he contributed to her very first campaign, against Crowley.

“I think — someday — she could be president,” he said. “But right now I don’t see the progressive moment having enough heft to get her across the line.”

Tasini argued that Ocasio-Cortez could become “a leader of the progressive movement by not running for president” but instead lending her support to left-wing candidates in local and state-level elections.

“Then we can celebrate not five wins — which is what we usually do — but 100. She is so young she could look at 2028 or 2032 [for a presidential campaign] and she’d have a whole cadre of progressive people,” he added.

Others within the party have a more direct objection.

The stakes of American politics right now are just too high, they say, to take a huge gamble on a 30-something democratic socialist, however charismatic she may be.

“We really don’t have the luxury of playing these ideological games,” Democratic strategist Tré Easton told this column.

Easton said he expected Biden to be the nominee in 2024. Even if he was not, Easton added, “given my own ideological predilections, I would love a more liberal person to be the Democratic Party’s nominee. But it’s vital to nominate someone who can put the kind of coalition together to defeat” the Republican nominee.

There is one other huge question. Does Ocasio-Cortez even want to run?

She did not challenge Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in his primary this year, even though there had been some speculation that she might.

New York’s other Democratic senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, is up for reelection in 2024. That could be a more inviting race for Ocasio-Cortez than a White House run.

It’s clear the chances of Ocasio-Cortez mounting a 2024 presidential bid are far less than 50-50. But they’re not zero either.

And if American politics has delivered any lessons in recent years, one is clear: Don’t rule anything out.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage

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