Ever since she burst onto the national political scene as a young socialist Democrat with a knack for making headlines, the 29-year-old Ocasio-Cortez has been an obsession for many on the political right.
As a young woman of Puerto Rican descent, a lawmaker from an ethnically diverse urban district and an outspoken liberal on issues of race, gender and class, she has in effect emerged as a living counterpoint to today’s heavily white, male and rural Republican Party — and has drawn ire from seemingly all corners of the conservative movement.
Commentators and politicians have criticized her intelligence, her clothing, even her claims of working-class roots. There are new examples all the time.
Republicans Ed Rollins and Rush Limbaugh recently dismissed Ocasio-Cortez as a “little girl” and “some young uppity.” The Washington Examiner’s Eddie Scarry tweeted a photo of her in November and wrote that she doesn’t “look like a girl who struggles.” The Daily Caller promoted what it described as a possible “nude selfie” of her last week before walking back its headline.
The trend has been so relentless that even some Republicans are starting to come to her defense.
“Why do people persist in these shallow attacks on @AOC?” Republican Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.) tweeted early Monday, referring to Owens’s comment. “Let’s discuss philosophical and policy differences (and areas of agreement), not her rent.”
Ocasio-Cortez, who has amassed more than 2 million Twitter followers and has emerged as one of her party’s most prominent national figures, seems to relish beatingback the attacks.
“It’s encouraging because this is my sixth day in Congress and they’re out of all their artillery,” she said in a recent interview. “The nude is supposed to be like the bazooka. You know, like, ‘We’re going to take her down.’ Dude, you’re all out of bullets, you’re all out of bombs, you’re all out of all this stuff. What have you got left?”
Conservatives say they target Ocasio-Cortez because she is a rising star who promotes socialist views, occasionally botches facts and attracts widespread attention on social media.
In interviews, they defended their approach as fair game.
“This is called scrutiny for public figures,” said Scarry, rejecting the idea that conservatives are fixated on Ocasio-Cortez. “This is just part of the bag . . . She’s 29. She’s a woman. She can take care of herself. She can answer for herself.”
The youngest-ever female member of the House, Ocasio-Cortez arrived in Washington in an unusual position: without hard power but at the center of the political zeitgeist. Since her election, in which she defeated a high-ranking incumbent in a primary, she has been parodied on “Saturday Night Live” and defended by Paul Krugman in the New York Times. Sunday political panels discuss her views. Fact-checkers point out her errors and misstatements.
She sat for an interview on CBS’s premier news program, “60 Minutes,” that aired days after her swearing-in, generating buzz with her call for raising taxes on the super-rich. And when she cast her vote for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Republican lawmakers were heard in the chamber groaning with disapproval.
When Trump was asked recently about Ocasio-Cortez calling him a racist, he said, “Who cares?” and made a dismissive gesture. She tweeted in response: “We got under his skin.”
Social media has become her preferred platform for calling out political opponents, knocking competing ideas and highlighting comments she sees as unfair or biased.Ocasio-Cortez called the right’s coverage of her “completely disgusting” on Twitter last week after the Daily Caller promoted the story about a fake “nude selfie” of her in a way that suggested the image might be authentic, making it go viral online.
Geoffrey Ingersoll, editor in chief of the Daily Caller, said he changed the story’s headline to ensure it was not misleading but defended his writer’s choice of topic.
“The article itself was abundantly clear about it being a vile hoax perpetrated by anonymous trolls,” he wrote in a private Twitter message to The Washington Post while comparing Ocasio-Cortez’s skill on social media to Trump’s.
“The difference is Trump was forced to adapt to changing media, and Ocasio-Cortez grew up with it. Trump is just snorkling [sic], while Ocasio-Cortez has gills,” he wrote.
Figures on the right said her style invites attack.
“If you put yourself out there and throw stones, you’re going to get stones thrown back at you,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), who has sought to engage with Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter about tax policy. “She operates in the same style that, say, President Trump does. Throw stones, stones get thrown right back.”
Other Republicans said they engage her because it is necessary to challenge her views.
“It’s important any time that a sitting member of Congress promotes socialist ideas to at least expose what it would do to destroy the ability for people to move into the middle class,” said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), who recently tweeted his opposition to the idea of a 70 percent marginal tax rate.
Former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, a Republican who was defeated in November, on Tuesday mocked Ocasio-Cortez for her tax proposal and suggested it was an elementary-school understanding of the issue. “Even 5th graders get it,” he tweeted.
Ocasio-Cortez replied that her position was about taxing “the billionaire in town because he’s making tons of money underpaying the townspeople.”
Often, the right’s response to Ocasio-Cortez goes beyond normal political posturing.
The congresswoman has faced conspiracy theories since she entered the political spotlight in June. Critics have argued that her story of working-class roots is fake, picking apart her clothes, education and even an apparent former nickname for evidence. An anonymous Twitter account affiliated with the far right sought to shame her this month by tweeting a video of her dancing “Breakfast Club”-style during college.
Ocasio-Cortez said nothing about her style or views merits crude personal attacks.
“Of course the right would say I’m asking for it, right?” she said. “That doesn’t surprise me that that’s the tack that they’re going with. It’s pretty transparent and very much shows the constructs of where they come from.”
But Crenshaw also said Ocasio-Cortez overstates Republicans’ negative feelings toward her. He referred to her tweet — “I hear the GOP thinks women dancing are scandalous” — after the anonymous account circulated the video.
“We don’t care and stop accusing us of caring,” he said. “No GOP member has said anything as far as I’m aware . . . Don’t paint the whole other side like that just because you got a mean tweet and now you’re like, ‘Now the whole GOP thinks that.’ That’s not true. I don’t do that to you, so don’t do it to me.”
Ingersoll said the coverage of Ocasio-Cortez is necessary to hold a novice politician with unusual power to account.
“Her appeal is obvious,” he wrote to The Post. “She’s telegenic, refreshingly candid, and hilariously reckless with facts.”
J.M. Rieger contributed to this report.