In most ways, Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez couldn’t be more different. Trump’s manufactured a crisis (and the longest-ever shutdown) over his long-promised border wall, while AOC has advocated for the abolishment of ICE. Trump has a well-documented history of insulting women and people of color, whereas AOC hails from both of these communities. And Trump’s father loaned him millions of dollars to start his businesses, while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez labored as a bartender before being elected to Washington.
Nevertheless, there’s one important similarity that unites this unlikely pairing. Both Donald Trump and AOC become more popular when they are targeted by their opposition.
As conservative commentator Ana Navarro pointed out earlier this month, AOC was hardly a national name when she beat incumbent Joe Crowley just six months ago. But, since that time, she’s become one of the most popular politicians on social media, the most celebrated incoming representative in recent memory, and the right’s new favorite punching bag.
But there’s something different about AOC: she grows stronger with each punch.
Similarly, many lifelong Republicans only began supporting Trump when they saw how much he was despised by the Democrats. His popularity increased, even as the criticism grew louder. Perhaps, even, because the criticism grew louder.
In our hyper-divided political climate, there’s an increasingly clear tendency to deify whichever politicians the opposition most vilifies. It’s almost as if hatred from the opposing party spurs a reactionary and increasingly blind love from the base. This is especially true when the critiques feel unjustified or petty.
Under this new paradigm, those of us who oppose Donald Trump must work to critique his presidency in such a way that we are not inadvertently fueling his popularity among his base.
How do we do this? To start, we can learn from the mistakes that Republicans have been making with AOC. Here are four lessons the #Resistance should be learning in the build-up to next year’s election.
#1: Skip The Rumors
Whether it’s AOC’s purported nude selfie (fake, BTW) or a pee tape mentioned in a largely-discredited Trump dossier, it’s tempting to spread unsubstantiated rumors about those on the opposite side of the aisle. However, those of us on the left must leave these salacious smear campaigns for the tabloids and focus our political critiques on what has been documented and proven.
Thoughtlessly repeating unproven — or, worse, disproven — rumors (like Buzzfeed’s recent headlines-grabber) makes it easier for conservatives to label as “fake news” even the most thoroughly-documented critiques of bigotry, corruption, and dishonesty (like the NY Times’ October story about Trump’s long history of tax schemes).
#2: Stop With The Name-Calling
Earlier this month, a Fox News guest dismissed AOC as a “little girl.” This move rightly infuriated many AOC supporters because, instead of responding to her proposed policies, this guest resorted to the type of misogynistic name-calling that’s perhaps best embodied by the President himself, a man who has made up derogatory nicknames for everyone from Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren.
It’s tempting for those of us who oppose the President to respond in kind, but referring to the President as an “orange Cheeto” doesn’t actually bring anyone onto our side. In fact, such nicknames give the impression that, like Trump and his ilk, our political arsenal is so empty of facts and policies that we must resort to bullying and insults. The #Resistance can provide an informed and civilized political alternative, but only if we rise above the petty name-calling that has defined the current presidency.
#3: Don’t Aim For Personal Humiliation
When AOC dressed up for her first day in Washington, conservatives attempted to shame her for her wardrobe choice. When she discussed the difficulty of finding affordable housing, conservatives attempted to shame her for her modest savings account. And when a video surfaced of her dancing a la Breakfast Club, conservatives attempted to shame her for… I’m still confused about that one actually.
Many conservatives have embarked on a seemingly endless (and fruitless) quest to humiliate AOC, but they’ve only ended up humiliating themselves. The same can be said for the left’s embarrassing obsession with Trump’s hair, weight, wardrobe, and dietary choices. It’s time we stop shaming politicians for being human. There are real issues at stake, and neither AOC’s unscripted Instagram Live slip about the “three chambers of government” nor Trump’s hamberder tweet typo should qualify as one of them.
#4: Don’t Dismiss Their Outsider Status
Over the past few years, there’s been a widespread distrust of career politicians, resulting in the rise of everything from the Tea Party and Trump to Bernie Sanders and AOC. In each of these instances, the establishment has attempted to claim that these outsiders don’t belong in Washington because they lack the necessary experience and pedigree.
These snubs, besides being both elitist and undemocratic, also tend to alienate voters who see themselves in the candidate in question. When Republicans imply that AOC doesn’t belong in the Capitol Building, they are insulting many Millenials, Latinas, and females across the country. Similarly, those liberals mocking the President for liking fast food or for serving it in The White House risk coming off as snobby and disconnected, especially to those low-income voters already wary of elitist jabs.
Those of us on the left must continue to critique Trump, but we must not critique him because he is an outsider. Rather, we must critique him because he traffics in lies, racism, conspiracy theories, and corruption, and we must do so despite the fact that he’s an outsider. That way, when we say that Donald Trump doesn’t belong in the White House, those crucial swing state voters will know that they still belong in the ballot box, especially as the country chooses a new path forward in 2020.