Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsed President Joe Biden for re-election on Thursday, noting he has done “quite well” in passing some progressive policies.
Her assessment of Biden’s tenure was true: The president really has surprised left-leaning Americans with how ambitious he’s been on social spending. But the endorsement was also a strategic misstep. Why throw support behind Biden over half a year before the primaries even begin, without attempting to secure more future commitments?
Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement, like Sanders’, underscores again how Biden has successfully defanged the left wing of the Democratic Party.
In an interview with the “Pod Save America” podcast, host Jon Favreau asked Ocasio-Cortez whether she would support Biden’s re-election, with his primary challengers so far being Marianne Williamson and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. She replied: “I believe, given that field, yes.”
That’s a missed opportunity to extract more from Biden.
Earlier in the interview, Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, praised Biden’s work on passing the America Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, echoing Sen. Bernie Sanders’ April endorsement of the president. But she also noted that Biden, and the Democratic Party more generally, “continues to struggle with immigration — we don’t want to own the issue.”
That ambivalence should be a clue as to why such an early endorsement is an unnecessary concession. Ocasio-Cortez could’ve said something like, “The primaries haven’t begun yet, and I’m waiting to hear what he has to say about immigration and other issues.”
And there are many other issues to demand bolder policy positions or clarity on from Biden. What about the push for Medicare-for-all that seems to have all but vanished in recent years? How does Biden plan to balance supporting Ukraine’s military against Russia with pursuing a diplomatic track to minimize the risk of nuclear escalation? Where does Biden stand on trans rights in schools? Will he really have organized labor’s back when it matters most next time? Does Biden intend to lead a campaign to abolish the filibuster and ensure that the U.S. legislative process has a fighting chance of being a majoritarian enterprise?
None of this requires going soft on Williamson, a new-age populist with troubling views on physical and mental health, or Kennedy, an anti-vaxxer activist whose biggest supporters are on the right. The point is there’s still plenty of time for other challengers to enter the Democratic presidential primaries, and Ocasio-Cortez can hint at the kinds of things Biden should embrace if he wants to fend off left-wing challengers. Currently, the scholar Cornel West — who Ocasio-Cortez praised during the interview — is looking to run as the Green Party’s candidate. What better way for Ocasio-Cortez to meet the twin goals of ensuring that a Republican doesn’t win and pre-empting third party-threats from the left than by doing something costless like demanding to hear more from Biden? There’s plenty of time before the primaries, and the general election — when unity matters most — is a long way off.
Instead, Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement, like Sanders’, underscores again how Biden has successfully defanged the left wing of the Democratic Party. Both Sanders, a Vermont independent, and Ocasio-Cortez are highly influential in their ability to mobilize progressives, and their distinct point of leverage over Biden is to act as surrogates for the movement left. By immediately aligning with Biden, they’re acting as surrogates for the establishment.