Donald Trump has compared Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Eva Perón, saying that though he first saw the New York congresswoman “ranting and raving like a lunatic on a street corner” and thinks “she knows nothing”, she has “a certain talent”.
“That’s Evita,” he said.
On Sunday, Ocasio-Cortez seemed to welcome the comparison.
The president’s remarks are contained in American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War, a book by Politico writer Tim Alberta that will be published on 16 July. The Guardian obtained a copy.
Ocasio-Cortez, 29, rose to stardom last year when she defeated a member of House leadership, Joe Crowley, in a primary in Queens. She has become a figurehead of opposition to Trump in the House and a bête noire of Republicans and Fox News, for her championing of progressive causes including the Green New Deal.
Last week Ocasio-Cortez told an interviewer that she believed America was heading in a fascist direction under Trump.
I see a young woman ranting and raving like a lunatic on a street corner, and I said: ‘That’s interesting, go back'
Perón, known popularly as Evita, was an actor married to Argentinian president Juan Perón who rose to fame as a champion of working class and female voters before dying of cancer in 1952, aged 33. Revered by many in her own country, she has been played in the West End and on Broadway by Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone and on film by Madonna.
Trump has not previously made the comparison. But he did write in a 2004 book that his “favorite Broadway show is Evita by Andrew Lloyd Webber, starring Patti LuPone. I saw it six times, mostly with [his first wife] Ivana”.
It may be Trump sees himself as a modern-day Evita. Speaking to ABC News in 2018, Amanda Eubanks Winkler, an associate professor of music history and culture at Syracuse University, drew direct comparisons.
Evita, she said, “was star of radio dramas and to a lesser extent film in Argentina, and then she went on and had this political career and political power”.
In Trump’s 2016 campaign, Eubanks Winkler said, the billionaire reality TV star echoed Evita’s appeal to the “Descamisados”, or “shirtless ones”, by “trying to reach out to people, working class people and you can see that in terms of the demographics of folks who voted for him”.
On Sunday afternoon, Ocasio-Cortez responded to the Guardian’s story in similar fashion, with a series of tweets. Attributing quotes to “Evita Perón”, she wrote: “I know that, like every woman of the people, I have more strength than I appear to have.”
She added: “I had watched for many years and seen how a few rich families held much of Argentina’s wealth and power in their hands. So the government brought in an eight-hour working day, sickness pay and fair wages to give poor workers a fair go.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets were greeted by some with reference to a lingering sore in Argentinian history: the Perón government’s harbouring of Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele, after the second world war.
She’s got talent. Now, that’s the good news. The bad news: she doesn’t know anything
In American Carnage, Trump says he first saw Ocasio-Cortez during her primary against Crowley, while watching TV with political advisers.
“I see a young woman,” he says, “ranting and raving like a lunatic on a street corner, and I said: ‘That’s interesting, go back.’”
Alberta then says Trump “became enamored” and “starstruck” by Ocasio-Cortez.
“I called her Eva Perón,” Trump says. “I said, ‘That’s Eva Perón. That’s Evita.”
Alberta writes that Trump, whom he interviewed for the book in late 2018, “places a comically exotic emphasis on the nickname: Ah-vit-tah.” He also reports that Trump treated Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over Crowley as a chance to remind his advisers he is “good at talent. I spotted talent. She’s got a certain talent”.
Trump does row back on his praise, telling Alberta: “She’s got talent. Now, that’s the good news. The bad news: she doesn’t know anything. She’s got a good sense, an ‘it’ factor, which is pretty good, but she knows nothing. But with time, she has real potential.”
Ocasio-Cortez has become one of the most recognised Democrats in the US.
Trump has criticized her in return but has also shown apparent fondness. For example, in April he said that although the Green New Deal would not prove an electoral winner, it was the work of “a young bartender” – a reference to Ocasio-Cortez’s job before politics – whom he called “a wonderful young woman”.
In the past week, Ocasio-Cortez has condemned Ivanka Trump’s diplomatic efforts at the G20 in Osaka, Japan, and criticised Trump’s spending on his 4 July event on the National Mall.
With other Democrats, she visited a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facility in Clint, Texas, where hundreds of migrant children, mostly from Central America, are being held in squalid conditions.
In remarks on Twitter that contributed to a political earthquake, Ocasio-Cortez reported “CBP officers being so physically [and] sexually threatening towards me” and said: “Officers were keeping women in cells [with] no water [and] had told them to drink out of the toilets. This was them on their GOOD behavior in front of members of Congress.”
Alberta’s book is a history of the Republican party from the nomination of the late senator John McCain in 2008 to midway through Trump’s first term. It contains scenes likely to cause controversy in the press and in the party itself.
In one startling instance, the former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele deploys rhetoric reminiscent of a controversial remark by Rashida Tlaib, a colleague of Ocasio-Cortez on the Democratic left.
Trump, Steele says, is a “motherfucker … defiling the White House”.