The Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Model Loses in the Midwest

If socialism is so popular, why aren’t the socialists winning?

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.

“Abdul El-Sayed’s Campaign Is a Test for Leftism in the Midwest,” New York Magazine declared.

That was on Sunday. 

On Monday, ThinkProgress called El-Sayed’s campaign one to prove “Democratic socialism can win in the Midwest.”

On Tuesday, socialism and leftism failed the Midwest test.

Bernie Sanders, socialism’s confused grandpa, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, socialism’s new model, had flown out to campaign for El-Sayed’s gubernatorial campaign in Michigan. A Guardian article sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation had dubbed the Muslim socialist candidate, “The New Obama”.  

El-Sayed had run on socialized medicine under its current misleading brand of “Medicare for All.” It had proven financially unviable everywhere from Vermont to California. And Michigan’s finances make it an especially terrible candidate for socialized medicine. But socialism is having a moment. Or is it?

Bernie Sanders, Linda Sarsour and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the entire left, couldn’t manage to drag El-Sayed over the finish line in a state with a large Muslim population. And El-Sayed didn’t just lose.

He lost badly.

The media had been trying to build up El-Sayed as another Ocasio-Cortez while repeatedly claiming that there was a tight race. The election showed that there had never actually been much of a competition.

El-Sayed isn’t socialism’s only Midwestern misfire.  A few days ago, the New York Times was touting Cori Bush as the woman to pull off Ocasio-Cortez’s playbook in the “heartland”. Like El-Sayed, Cori Bush was running on a $15 minimum wage, “Medicare for All” and free college. 

Bush was a Black Lives Matter organizer. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came to campaign for her. Like Cortez, Bush was supposed to beat Rep. Lacy Clay, a CBC hack welded to his seat by identity politics, by applying the same insurgent tactics that had allowed Cortez to beat Rep. Joe Crowley in New York.

There was just one huge problem. Cortez had beaten a white guy who lived in Virginia in a Latino district. Clay is black. And so Cortez’s playbook of running against a white guy proved utterly useless.

Cori Bush lost by nearly as high a percentage as Abdul El-Sayed.

Bernie’s people supported Bush. And she had the endorsement of Democracy for America. The left had tried to turn El-Sayed and Bush into the poster candidates for socialism. Despite socialism’s supposed moment, its candidates have been consistent losers outside of a few super-lefty enclaves. That was why the media had built a cult of personality around Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Had El-Sayed or Bush won, there would have been three examples, two in the heartland, instead of only one New York fluke.

Mainstream Democrats had argued that socialism wouldn’t appeal to the average American.

The Midwest had become the left’s obsession. If the socialists were ever going to be taken seriously, they had to win outside leftist bicoastal bubbles. El-Sayed and Bush tried to replicate Cortez’s campaign of cloaking socialism in identity politics and then claiming their win as a victory for socialism. The plan was to expand on Cortez’s victory among Latino voters with Muslim and African-American voters.

Once again the media had created a false narrative, inflated the chances of marginal candidates with no real support outside radical circles, acted as if they were likely to win, and then forgot about them just as quickly. The same media narrative which rewrote Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory as inevitable will just as quickly erase Abdul El-Sayed, the new Obama, and Cori Bush, the new Cortez, from history.

In a few days, El-Sayed went from socialism’s litmus test to a forgotten failure. But that’s always been true of socialism which has spent over a century burying one failure after another. Compared to the Soviet Union, Cambodia and Venezuela, one failed gubernatorial candidate is a small thing indeed.

And, unlike the last three examples, El-Sayed hadn’t even managed to starve thousands or millions of people to death, shoot them in the streets or torture them to death in secret prisons.

Socialism’s success is inevitable. Its defeats are always inconceivable. And so they never happened.

El-Sayed and Bush’s defeats mark the end of the Cortez strategy. The left did better with Brent Welder and James Thompson, both white, in Kansas. And despite Cortez’s showboating, their respective performance can’t be credited to her. The left has gone to the Midwest to show that it had broad appeal, it had put forward identity politics candidates, but it actually does best with white voters.

Just not very many of those white voters.

Bernie Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton because black women voted against him. Elizabeth Warren’s deepest appeal is to wealthy white voters. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was so appealing, not just because she was a millennial, but because the socialists had finally cracked the Democrat minority bloc wall. 

The new narrative about socialism in the Midwest will have to toss aside the rebranding. 

Socialism remains the hobbyhorse of a limited number of white leftists. They have the money and the activists to occasionally win races, usually when their opponents are badly hobbled. It’s not because their ideas are unpopular. Free stuff at taxpayer expense has always been a winning Dem message.

It’s the messengers.

As Bernie Sanders awkwardly limps around the country with Ocasio-Cortez, the oldest and youngest socialists, they will face difficult questions about where the trillions of dollars to pay for their plans will come from and even more difficult questions about why if socialism is so popular, the socialists aren’t winning.

And the answer has to do with their own incompetence.

Both Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had become notorious for their gaffes, their inability to explain what anything would cost, and how they plan to keep their promises. Abdul El-Sayed and Cori Bush were no better on the campaign trail. The flagbearers of a new populist socialism tripped over their own clueless rhetoric and landed face down in the mud. Their failure was indeed a litmus test.

Socialists have always been the worst messengers of socialism. Socialism’s best messengers weren’t socialists, but their Democrat opponents. That’s what Barack Obama understood and Bernie Sanders didn’t. It’s why he endorsed Hillary Clinton, not her even more inept and fumbling opponent. 

Americans can be tricked into accepting socialism when it isn’t being pitched by socialists.