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Ocasio-Cortez Says NY Democrats’ Anti-“Defund” Campaign Was a Major Mistake

The party’s underperformance this cycle was due partly to outdated party structure that excludes the left, she said.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks during a news conference on February 12, 2022, in San Antonio, Texas.

If Democrats lose the House, the blame will lie with New York Democrats and their refusal to embrace the left wing of their party, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) said in a new interview.

Though Democrats performed slightly better than expected in this election, the party still has a lot to lose if Republicans win the House, which they are poised to do — a scenario that Ocasio-Cortez told The Intercept this week could have been avoided if not for New York Democrats’ utter hostility toward progressives and the abolitionist movement during this campaign season.

New York was a “glaring aberration” in Democrats’ performance this election, partially because of the emphasis on crime, she said, a “prime mistake” that only elevated false right-wing talking points and isolated the left.

“I think the choice among certain Democrats to validate Republican narratives and amplify Republican narratives on crime and policing, running ads on it — validating these narratives actually ended up hurting them much more than a different approach,” she said.

“They ran ads around that were explicitly very anti-defund, which only served to reinvoke the frame and only served to really reinforce what Republicans were saying,” she continued, adding that if they were so adamant about addressing supposed crime, Democrats should have discussed public safety initiatives they’ve implemented, like anti-gun violence reforms.

Indeed, Republicans spent much of the election cycle pushing the false narrative that Democratic areas are more dangerous than the rest of the country. Rather than questioning the basis of this narrative, however, candidates like Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney touted pro-police platforms, rushing to prove they would be tough on crime. Notably, Maloney lost after ousting progressive Rep. Mondaire Jones in the primary earlier this year when their districts merged.

Another factor that played a role in New York Democrats’ losses is vast corruption among mainstream party leaders, Ocasio-Cortez went on. Though Andrew Cuomo is no longer state governor, she said, his “disorganized” and “sycophantic” party infrastructure is still in place, favoring corporations and deep-pocketed interests and making it hard for those on the left to organize at a grassroots level.

“We saw that with India Walton. We saw loud and clear there were a lot of canaries in the coal mine from the state ballot initiative” to prevent partisan gerrymandering that “Republicans put millions of dollars into defeating,” she said. Such a stiff hierarchical structure for the state Democratic Party has stifled progressive voices and favored the opinions of those at the top of the party like the governor and the party chair.

“You know, I can say: I’ve been in Congress for four years, I have never had a conversation with the New York State Democratic Party chair [Jay Jacobs] ever,” Ocasio-Cortez lamented. This has laid the groundwork for Republicans to swoop into the grassroots spaces that progressives would have occupied if they hadn’t been suppressed by Democratic leaders.

“In fact, [Jacobs has] done nothing but attack progressive Democrats all across the state,” she continued. “What he has done is created an environment where the only, quote unquote, or the main, quote unquote, legitimate Democratic candidates worthy of support are those who fight both progressives and Republicans, which is clearly not a winning strategy, especially not in the state of New York.”

The party hasn’t just been attacking progressives in public, Ocasio-Cortez said — it’s also been coordinating behind the scenes to undermine progressives and frame them as enemies of Democrats. This strategy is especially harmful to Democrats and progressives at a time when younger generations are increasingly progressive and urging the party to turn leftward.

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