If certain features of Republicanism in the Trump era fade away with the man himself, there will be consequences both good and bad for the party. Although some analysts are certain the GOP has undergone a permanent and fundamental transformation, I’m not sure that’s exactly how it’ll play out across the board come 2020 or 2024. But Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might be able to help.
The incoming congresswoman seems to be the perfect avatar for a certain flavor of woke millennial progressivism, one boosted by a sense of confidence that’s severely out of proportion with its command of basic facts. Recall Ocasio-Cortez’s epic stream of unforced gaffes this summer, which made her look more like the freshman who comes home from one semester of college ready to overthrow capitalism than an elected official.
But in their critiques of Ocasio-Cortez, some conservatives are repeating the mistakes President Trump’s detractors, left and right, made against him. Denigrating unpolished, less-than-flawless politicians who speak to the working class is not a great look, as it turns out. When conservatives swarm Ocasio-Cortez for mistakenly mentioning “all three chambers of Congress” (before immediately correcting herself), it looks petty and elitist. Save the dunking for legitimate absurdities like this one.
Populists may often be of dubious credentials, but smug nitpicking from partisans does more to confirm their narratives than undermine them. When voters see themselves in politicians, they see themselves in the attacks against them. That’s not to say bad ideas shouldn’t be attacked. They can and they must. But sometimes that work has to be done with tact in order to avoid creating martyrs and anti-establishment champions, or insulting people who are understandably attracted to a bartender-turned-congresswoman or freewheeling billionaire.
Not every politician can be Mitt Romney. There’s an impulse on the left and the right to enforce the standards of politics-as-usual on likable outsiders (see: the 2016 Republican primary). In Trump’s rise, conservatives witnessed firsthand the failures of that approach. They should heed the lesson.