AOC vs. Trump – We’re still twenty-seven months out from our next presidential election, but already, speculation is mounting.
Each political party enters the 2024 election with notable uncertainties. On the Democrats’ end, their eligible incumbent, President Joe Biden, may not run for reelection. Not since Lyndon B. Johnson withdrew from the 1968 election has a sitting president, eligible for reelection, chosen not to run. Biden’s withdrawal would be historically unusual – yet, practical: he is very old and he is very unpopular. Were Biden to withdraw, it would inspire a mad scramble amongst DNC politicians seeking the top spot. Many prominent Democrats would vie to succeed Biden. One name that seems to be gaining traction as a future presidential candidate is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
AOC’s political career began as an insurgency against longtime NY-14 incumbent Joseph Crowley. AOC won the seat in one of politics’ most stunning upsets. Ever since, she has been the darling of the progressive left, the DNC’s rising star, and perhaps the most famous member of the entire 435-person House of Representatives. Given AOC’s national prominence, it makes sense for her name to get tossed around as a presidential candidate; she is a full-blown celebrity politician in a culture that seems to value celebrity over roughly anything else.
And yet, AOC is not a serious presidential candidate. For one, AOC is a member of the House of Representatives. Several House members have gone on to serve as president. But only James Garfield was elected to the presidency directly from the House. Typically, House members move upward to become Senator, and only then are they considered viable for the presidency. Richard Nixon did this. John F. Kennedy did this. Lyndon B. Johnson did this.
But there are exceptions. Gerald Ford did move from the House of Representatives to the White House – without a stop in the Senate. Ford left the House and filled the vice presidential vacancy that Spiro Agnew’s resignation created. And then, when Nixon resigned, Ford became president. But Ford was not elected to either the vice presidency or the presidency. So his ascendency from representative to the president is heavily qualified and resultant of a uniquely turbulent moment in American history. Oh, and Ford had spent 24 consecutive years in the House. By comparison, AOC has served just three years. In which time she has accomplished roughly nothing.
Bottom line: AOC simply does not have the resume to be president. Nor should she; she’s only 33; if she were elected in 2024, she would become, by far, the youngest president ever.
Although I acknowledge that a resume doesn’t matter like it used to.
Donald Trump was a political neophyte who defeated Hillary Clinton – one of the most qualified candidates ever to run. Speaking of Hillary, Obama was pretty green, too, when he beat her in the 2008 DNC primary. George W. Bush (kind of) beat Al Gore, the more experienced man. Increasingly, marketing has supplanted accomplishment, even actual policy, as the primary driver of a person’s political appeal. And with respect to marketing, AOC is a virtuoso.
The State of Play for 2024
The Republicans are in a similarly unusual and uncertain position. Ex-President Trump, who was ousted from office after serving just one term, has another term of eligibility. Typically, in modern presidential history, when a president is ousted after one term, his political career is dead; he isn’t even in the discussion for the upcoming presidential election. Jimmy Carter for example, after losing to Ronald Reagan, never sought political office again, despite being just 56 years old. George H. W. Bush, after losing to Bill Clinton, called it quits, too. Ousted presidents just aren’t viewed as viable candidates; voters already indicated they didn’t like the guy – that’s why they sent him packing.
And losing a U.S. presidential election – the biggest, most visible election in the world – leaves a guy with an indelible stigma, a mark of shame. Think Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bob Dole, Al Gore. Donald Trump is different, however. By convincing the MAGA base that the 2020 election was fraudulent, Trump has sidestepped the scarlet letter typically pinned on presidential election losers. Despite losing, he remains the most prominent figure in the GOP. His endorsements are coveted. The national media still hangs on every word he says. Unlike the one-term presidents before him, Trump’s political career is not necessarily dead. Trump may well choose to run again in 2024. And if he does, he’ll be a viable candidate. But Trump would face significant hurdles from the Democrats – and from his own party.
A Trump v. AOC showdown is highly unlikely but I suppose anything is possible. Trump and AOC would be billed as the starkest contrast between two presidential candidates ever – but Trump and AOC have more in common than either is likely comfortable admitting. Both are more concerned with marketing than substantive governance; both cater to non-centric bases but govern closer to the center; both do their best work on Twitter; both claim victimhood in nearly every conceivable situation.
Frankly, a Trump v. AOC match-up sounds like the most annoying, most puffed-up, most discouraging combination of candidates possible.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.