At this point, the legend of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is part of the political-pop culture fabric of our times—she was the bartending, student-loan obligated underdog who shocked Joe Crowley and the Democratic establishment, stared down the D.C.C.C., led the next-gen ambitions of The Squad, flexed her juice to Nancy Pelosi, and became a Met Gala sensation, cover star, and arguably one of the most recognizable people in the country, mostly before her 30th birthday.
In her earliest years on Capitol Hill, A.O.C. has contained multitudes. She was a #resistance hero, an inspiration, a right-wing target and trigger, and a veritable power center all her own. And yet, amid the chaos of the Trump years, she also posed a material challenge to leadership, a frustration to Democrats who wanted to stay united above all, and a font of vexation to policy wonks, who viewed her Green New Deal as the most well-known non-binding resolution of all time.
Five years into her career on the Hill, A.O.C. remains no less enigmatic or intriguing. Sure, now she’s a backbencher in the minority, supporting the agenda of a president whom she has challenged and a party leadership with whom she has occasionally jostled. None of this is abnormal, but it’s amplified given her celebrity and apparent optionality. A year ago, my Puck partner Dylan Byers observed that some cable news executives half-seriously believed that A.O.C. was one of the few people who could replace Rachel Maddow at MSNBC and preserve the network’s ratings. The water cooler chatter merely confirmed that, at the age of 33, she may be one of the most famous members of Congress in modern times.