How is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Like Trump?

AOC, Trump, and the Social Media Playbook

Since the November midterms, 197 Democrats have made their way to DC to sit in the House of Representatives. For my money, the most interesting by far is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC as she is sometimes known).

I’m not the first to notice it, but she seems so much like another trailblazing, barn-burning politician. Like President Donald Trump, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is both loved and hated. Like him, she draws media attention the way a smartphone draws teenagers. She inspires admiration and energy in her base while driving her opponents crazy (Last week Fox news devoted an entire segment to discussing her shoes. Sound familiar?).

Ocasio-Cortez flouts political norms in many of the same ways that Trump has. It’s almost as if she’s working from his playbook. Let’s look at some areas where these two larger than life politicians are similar.

Twitter Use

Twitter is an incredibly powerful tool for persuasion in the right hands. Donald Trump wasn’t the first politician to use it, but I think it’s fair to say that his activity on the platform has been unique. Unfortunately, Democratic politicians haven’t been as effective on Twitter.

Here’s a plot that shows the number of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter followers. Her count was rising steadily before Nov 6, but has been growing even faster since the midterms.

Image for post
Image for post
Data from https://web.archive.org/web/*/https://twitter.com/Ocasio2018?lang=En

Like Trump, AOC uses twitter to energize her followers. We see that her most popular tweets fall under a few familiar categories.

1 - Boasting

Here’s the tweet that triggered Fox News — AOC bragging about her hustle.

Image for post
Image for post

2 — Criticizing the President

It may not surprise you that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is not the first to use Twitter to attack a sitting president.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

3 - Outlandish Proposals

Ocasio-Cortez’s suggestion that we eliminate Columbus Day (or ICE for that matter) seems unlikely to happen. Then again so was candidate Trump’s proposal to wall up the entire US-Mexico border. Both big claims seem specifically designed to draw attention.

Image for post
Image for post

Language

If we compare the most popular words found in tweets by both Ocasio-Cortez and Trump, we get an interesting contrast.

Image for post
Image for post
World Clouds — Left: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — Right: Donald Trump

Sure the main terms are different. Trump most often proclaims things “great” while Ocasio-Cortez “thanks” her supporters. Still, we can see that both focus on “People” and “Americans”. Both try to drive the “vote”. Both of them also spend a lot of time discussing their main issues. For Trump it’s ‘Obamacare’, ‘China’, and ‘Jobs’. For Ocasio-Cortez it’s ‘Healthcare’, ‘Workers’, ‘Women’ and ‘Community’.

Focus on A Few Key Issues

Speaking of issues, Ocasio-Cortez avoids the mistake that many Democrats make. She doesn’t spread herself too thin. Compare Hillary Clinton’s many healthcare positions against Ocasio-Cortez, who has just one (medicare for all). Though Clinton’s ideas may have sounded more reasonable, she was never able to resonate.

Unlike Clinton (but like Trump) Ocasio-Cortez focusses on a few big themes. Her main issues are all popular with the Democratic base and more emotionally powerful than abstract policy proposals.

Trump’s platform was similar. He targeted the same key issues of jobs, immigration, and healthcare from a conservative position. Both Trump and AOC represent a kind of blue-collar populism that diverges greatly from the old Clintonite globalist politics.

Attacking Party Incumbents

It’s hard to remember now, but when Trump was running for President he was vociferously attacked by conservatives. Top Senators like Lindsay Graham called Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot”. As part of this fued, Trump called Graham “publicity-seeking” and wrong. Over time though, Trump maneuvered Graham to his way of thinking. Today the South Carolina senator is one of Trump’s closest allies, often praising the president and his policies.

We see the same pattern of behavior with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nancy Pelosi. Like Trump, Ocasio-Cortez refuses to bow to a powerful member of her own party. In fact, she participated in a physical sit-in of Pelosi’s office with climate change activists. A few days later, she was defending the same potential Democratic Speaker of the House.

Image for post
Image for post

Ocasio-Cortez’s office is only two doors down from Pelosi. The old saying says to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Both Trump and AOC know that there is no difference. Enemies can become friends if they are played correctly.

Hitting Back (and not apologizing)

When Donald Trump was running for President, he was asked about his history of using nasty words to describe women. Trump famously interjected “only Rosie O’Donnell” instead of apologizing for his past remarks. Trump then proceeded to start a war of words with Meghan Kelly, who asked him the question in the first place. Every time Trump is attacked, he stands his ground and strikes back.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez does the same. Someone who has been in office mere weeks, she’s already been in an impressive number of fights.

When Sarah Palin mocked AOC for faltering during an interview, Ocasio-Cortez basically called her old and a loser.

Image for post
Image for post

After Ocasio-Cortez compared the current migrant crisis to the Holocaust, she was demonized by Republicans, including Lindsay Graham. He suggested she visit a Holocaust museum. Instead of apologizing, AOC shot back.

Image for post
Image for post

When a reporter furtively took a photo of AOC’s backside, and implied that her clothes were too nice, she lit him up along with the rest of the twitter-sphere.

Image for post
Image for post

Ocasio-Cortez follows the Trump model perfectly. When the media writes biased stories attacking her, she’s not afraid to attack either the reporter or the paper that smears her.

Image for post
Image for post

Media Attention

These twitter spats might seem frivolous, but they serve an important political purpose. CNN has spent countless hours giving Trump free publicity, and now Fox News is doing the same for Ocasio-Cortez. In the last month there have been over 50 stories written about her on mainstream news sites. Surprisingly, most of these are on right-wing outlets like the Daily Caller (over 15 AOC stories in November). Some sample headlines below.

Image for post
Image for post
Daily Caller Articles about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in November

AOC is right, this right-wing fascination with her borders on obsession. It’s the inverse of the left-wing media obsession that propelled Trump to office.

Provocation and Bold Proposals

If there’s one thing that voters seem to hate it’s incrementalism. Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and Mitt Romney all lost to candidates who made bold campaign promises.

Donald Trump understood this well. As candidate for president, his big ideas included building a border wall (that Mexico would pay for), renegotiating free-trade agreements, halting Muslim immigration, and bombing/taking oil from ISIS.

AOC follows in this tradition. Instead of suggesting small policy tweaks, she thinks big. Her list of proposals include: abolishing ICE, medicare for all, and a new Green Deal that would cost as much as the Marshal Plan.

Critics may argue that these policies are impractical but that is besides the point. They are simple and easy to express. They rally the base, provide goals to work towards and are good starting points for negotiation. In Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we see the same rhetorical style as FDR and the same posturing that Donald Trump described in the Art of the Deal.

Conclusion

Although Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Donald Trump exist on opposite sides of the political spectrum, their styles are eerily similar. Both AOC and Trump use Twitter to reach their supporters, mock their enemies, and mercilessly provoke those who hate them. They represent the disappearance of a moderate middle ground and of old-school politeness in political discourse.

As of this writing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is 29 years sold. In 6 years, she’ll meet the age requirement for President of the United States of America. If Trump’s success is anything to go by, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political opponents should be very worried come 2024.

Bonus — Twitter time use

For fun I decided to compare the hours that Trump and Ocasio-Cortez send their tweets. It looks like AOC peaks a little later in the day (around 5pm) where Trump does around 3pm. Also she seems to be more of a night owl.

Image for post
Image for post

Written by

Engineer in San Francisco. Interested in words, networks, and human abstractions. Opinions expressed are solely my own.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store