The Rise of Ocasio-Cortez and What it Means for the Future of American Politics

A year ago, most political analysts would have scoffed at the idea that incumbent Democratic representative Joseph Crowley of New York’s 14th District would be in serious jeopardy of losing his congressional seat.  Crowley has been a leading member of Congress, nearing the end of his tenth consecutive term, serving as Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, and recently being listed by Roll Call newspaper as one of six potential Democrats to take over as House Democratic Leader.  Between 2010 and 2016, Crowley won re-election with at least 70% of the vote. He is a proven staunch Democrat with a plethora of endorsements from Democratic politicians, major organizations like Planned Parenthood, and numerous Labor Unions–making him arguably the strongest and most powerful New York representative.  Crowley was also last reported to have raised $2.8 million compared to Democratic challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s $127,000 before the Democratic Primary election in June 2018.  

So, it was understandably surprising when challenger Ocasio-Cortez won the primary election with 57.5% of the vote compared to Crowley’s 42.5%, a comfortable 15 point victory for the little known, first-time politician.  While both candidates are strongly progressive, Ocasio-Cortez proved to be more progressive on her health care, immigration, criminal-justice, and economic policy.  She has declared herself a “democratic socialist,” working extensively with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  In many states and districts these attributes would be harmful to a candidate, but this gave her an advantage in the far left-leaning 14th District of New York.  Heading into the general election on November 6th, it will be round 2 of Ocasio-Cortez vs. Crowley (who is now running as a third party candidate).  Unfortunately for Crowley, even if more opponents of Ocasio-Cortez make an appearance on election day, Republican candidate Anthony Pappas will likely take the votes of conservatives and others that would have otherwise gone to Crowley.  Therefore, it is highly likely Ocasio-Cortez will be on Capitol Hill in 2019.

This change is arguably more drastic than a conventional Democrat being replaced by a conventional Republican; it is more similar to Donald Trump winning the Republican primary in 2016.  America’s two major political parties appear to be undergoing a sort of fission. Radical Democrats like Bernie Sanders and now Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republicans who have been dubbed “the alt-right” are splitting apart the parties they represent.  Primaries expose this division and it is fascinating to see how two members of the same political party can have drastically different visions for the country and how this phenomenon plays out on a federal level.

It is possible that the 2016 presidential election and New York’s 14th District congressional election of 2018 are just the beginning of the collapse of our two-party system.  It does seem to be increasingly difficult to categorize the political philosophies of all Americans into two general parties, especially in a world that is becoming more and more complex.  The battle between establishment Republicans, Democrats, and their radical counterparts has just begun and it remains to be seen how the American political landscape is affected. If there are two things New York’s 14th District election proves, it is that no seat is safe with our volatile political climate and that change is coming–significant change impacting the American political infrastructure.

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