One asset that freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has deployed during a year in which she surged to national political attention has been the element of surprise. She caught a longtime Democratic incumbent sleeping and won election to the House. She’s managed to deflect and destabilize other opponents with adeptness on social media and has reshaped parts of the public policy conversation by advocating for progressive changes to taxation and the economy that seem to have caught many by surprise.
In an interview with “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, though, she offered an opinion that, although unusual historically and for an elected official in Washington, should not be considered surprising.
Ocasio-Cortez was being interviewed by Anderson Cooper, who asked what she meant when she said that Trump was “a symptom of a problem.”
“The president certainly didn’t invent racism,” she replied. “But he’s certainly given a voice to it and expanded it and created a platform for those things.”
“Do you believe President Trump is a racist?” Cooper asked.
“Yeah. Yeah. No question,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
“How can you say that?” Cooper replied.
“When you look at the words that he uses, which are historic dog whistles of white supremacy,” she said. “When you look at how he reacted to the Charlottesville incident, where neo-Nazis murdered a woman, versus how he manufactures crises like immigrants seeking legal refuge on our borders, it’s — it’s night and day.”
On this, Ocasio-Cortez’s opinion is positively mainstream.
A year ago, the Associated Press and its polling partners at NORC asked Americans the same question Cooper posed to Ocasio-Cortez. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans said they thought Trump is racist, including a wide majority of black Americans.
What’s more, most Americans held that view strongly, with 46 percent of Americans saying they felt strongly that Trump is racist.
In July, Quinnipiac University released a poll with slightly better numbers for the president — but with about half the country still holding the belief that the president is racist.
What’s important to note about that poll, though, is that Americans who share Ocasio-Cortez’s politics and heritage — Democrats and Hispanics — overwhelmingly believe that Trump is racist. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats think he’s racist, while 6 in 10 Hispanics agree.
This is not new. In a Suffolk University poll conducted shortly before the election, well before the incidents cited by Ocasio-Cortez as evidence of Trump’s racial views, about half the country (including most Democrats and Hispanics) thought he was racist. Remarkably, even 7 percent of Americans who planned to vote for Trump thought he was racist.
That July poll from Quinnipiac also got to Ocasio-Cortez’s first point about the “dog whistles” of white supremacy. In that same poll in which Americans were split on Trump’s racial views, a clear majority believed that his presidency and rhetoric had given oxygen to racists.
Remarkably, more than a fifth of Republicans thought that Trump emboldened racists, even though, in the same poll, only 11 percent disapproved of his presidency.
Bear in mind that these polls are all months old, predating the fight over the U.S.-Mexico border wall and Trump’s midterm-campaign focus on migration (including that notorious ad implying that migrants approaching the border were dangerous criminals). But, then, the Suffolk University poll in 2016 lines up fairly well with the Quinnipiac University poll from July, suggesting that views of Trump on race have been reinforced, not altered, by his presidency.
Those polls remind us that Ocasio-Cortez’s position on Trump’s racial attitudes are squarely in line with Democrats and her constituents. The surprising part is solely that, unlike many elected officials, she’s willing to state those views publicly.