Their districts are only a few miles apart, roughly connected by the justly maligned Brooklyn Queens Expressway that makes what should be a ten-minute drive between them often take an hour. But it is much more than traffic that separates Rep. Max Rose’s Staten Island and South Brooklyn district and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s district in Queens and the Bronx. It is also politics, more specifically different answers to what it means to be a Democrat in 2019.
Both nationally and here in Gotham, Ocasio-Cortez, or AOC as she dubs herself, has a vastly higher profile than Rose. Both are young freshmen in Congress, but while Ocasio-Cortez has vaulted to prominence, Rose, while a frequent guest on TV news programs, has nowhere near her fabulous fame. Despite AOC’s outsized reach, in recent weeks Rose has taken aim at her, the group that backed her (Justice Democrats PAC), and the Democrats who support her progressive agenda.
Mary Kay Linge in the New York Post has a well-reported story on Rose’s new offensive. All of it is worth reading, but here are some highlighted quotes she reported from Rose.
“Here is a formal invitation to anyone who considers themselves a socialist anywhere in New York, or any Justice Democrat. A formal invitation to come primary me. We can settle this at the polls.” And in regard to complaints about his lack of action when Rep. Ilhan Omar made anti-Semitic remarks, Rose told voters, “You sent me to Congress to have your back. And I failed you.”
These kinds of statements from Rose mirror similar ones from Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer. Earlier this month, seeming somewhat annoyed, Hoyer reminded reporters that Democrats had “elected 62 freshman congressmen, not 3 (referring to AOC, Omar, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib).” He also took to the stage at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference this week to attack Omar’s statements.
It seems clear that Hoyer was talking exactly about freshmen like Rose: Less-extreme Democrats who oppose the Green New Deal, support Israel, are moderate on economic issues, and can appeal more to independent voters. He also happens to be a ex Army infantryman. This kind of new Democrat is being lost in the shuffle while the progressive divas grace magazine covers.
In fact, this week House Democrats brought in former President Barack Obama to have a chat with some of the rowdier freshmen Democrats and urge them to show a little moderation. He applauded them for being bold but suggested that stuff like how you pay for things also has to be a part of the conversation. One begins to get the sense that leadership would rather have someone like Rose on TV than someone like Ocasio-Cortez.
And it’s a fair point. In comparing Rose to Ocasio-Cortez, one important thing stands out. Rose flipped a swing district from red to blue; AOC won a district that wouldn’t turn red if you painted it with a crop duster. For Democratic leadership in Congress, this is starting to become a problem. It’s raising fears about maintaining their House majority and competing for the Senate.
Even some liberal pundits are starting to wonder if the wrong lesson of the 2018 Democratic misterm victories might have been learned. It was widely viewed at the time as an uprising of young, leftist, non-white women speaking truth to Trump’s power. This makes good copy and is a compelling story, but is it really what led to flipping the House?
In fact, the Democrats who snatched seats from the GOP on the whole look a lot more like Rose policy-wise than they do the celebrated socialists. This schism will play out in microcosm in New York City in 2020, as both AOC and Rose seek to defend their districts. Short of a primary, a possibility if leadership gets too fed up with her, Ocasio-Cortez’s seat is certainly secure. For Rose, it’s a different story.
Rose defeated Dan Donovan, a middling politician bruised by a primary against former Rep. Michael Grimm in a non-presidential year. This time he will face stiffer competition, likely from either State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis or City Councilman Joe Borelli. Both are young, good on the trail, and popular. Malliotakis has the added advantage of her district crossing the Verrazano Bridge into Brooklyn, where Rose saw his greatest support.
Of course, the 2020 wild card is who will be the Democratic nominee. Rose has to be praying for a moderate like Joe Biden, or maybe even Robert Francis O’Rourke, with whom he can do a rally. It is not clear that standing next to Bernie Sanders or Kamala Harris will do him much good in Staten Island. Ocasio Cortez, on the other hand, would see her brand bolstered by a firm shift left in the party and its choice of presidential candidate.
Much has been made over the past two years of divisions in the GOP concerning Donald Trump. They exist, but they concern style much more than substance. The divisions in the Democratic Party — socialism versus managerial progressivism, Medicare for All versus Obamacare, Green New Deal versus people owning cars in 10 years — are much more substantial policy divisions.
In the coming months, look for established Democrats to push Rose to the fore, and get him in front of people as much as possible. But it may be that the genie is out of the bottle. The media’s love affair with the far left of the Democratic Party may be too deep and lustful for the establishment to break it up.
If the farthest left wing of the Democratic Party emerges successful in the next year and a half, it will be very good news for Trump, but very bad news for Rose and the Democratic establishment. Can the Democrats shift course? Maybe, but don’t count on it.