After Israel barred entry to Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Nancy Pelosi seized the apparent high ground. Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic Congressional leadership aggressively defended Omar and Tlaib’s right to enter Israel, while sidestepping the discussion of their support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, also known as BDS.
Unfortunately for Pelosi, her time holding the high ground was limited. First, Rep. Tlaib pleaded with Israel’s interior minister, Aryeh Deri, to admit her to Israel because it might be Tlaib’s “last opportunity” to visit her grandmother, only to reverse course once Deri agreed. Then, Tlaib and Rep. Omar posted an anti-Semitic cartoon to their Instagram accounts. The cartoon was drawn by Carlos Latuff, who came in second in Iran’s International Holocaust Cartoon Contest in 2006.
Reps. Tlaib, Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are dictating terms to the Democratic Party; Pelosi can do little but watch.
Nancy Pelosi can’t be happy about this turn of events; unfortunately for her, she can no longer control them. Reps. Tlaib, Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are dictating terms to the Democratic Party; Pelosi can do little but watch.
In the fight for influence, Pelosi is thoroughly outgunned by AOC’s influencer clique. Fifteen months ago, AOC had roughly 20,000 Twitter followers; today, she has 5.2 million, compared to Pelosi’s 2.8 million. Her majority leader, Steny Hoyer, has a paltry 118,000 Twitter followers, compared to Omar’s 1.5 million and Tlaib’s 735,000. The combined power of AOC’s clique is enough to drive the news cycle — and the party.
These three congresswomen have grasped the central media truth of our times: conflict is attention, and attention is influence. They have learned from the success of pro-Trump influencers and adapted their techniques to progressive politics.
After prevailing in her primary, AOC seized the initiative. She picked a fight with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, accusing him of “catcalling her” when he demanded a public debate. After taking her seat in the House, she started pushing for the Green New Deal, picking a fight with the entire GOP. More recently, her controversial framing of ICE detention centers as “concentration camps” dominated headlines for almost two weeks. This is how influence works in 2019: take a controversial position, stand your ground, and watch your clout increase.
The timing isn’t a coincidence, either. The Mueller investigation was a massive counterweight to the AOC clique’s influence; it provided endless drama and storytelling opportunities to a controversy-hungry media. Was Trump a Russian agent? Would the former director of the FBI indict him? This conflict captured the attention of the Democratic base, united liberal institutionalists and radical leftists, and dampened the rising influence of the three congresswomen.
Trump’s Twitter account, with its 63 million-plus followers, allows him to impose his will on the party. Democrats now face a similar quandary.
But Russia is in the past. The Mueller Report was a dud, and his testimony before Congress was a disaster for Democrats. The entire investigation has been rapidly forgotten, and the New York Times is retooling its newsroom to focus, instead, on portraying President Trump as racist.
With racism and Israel as the controversies du jour, Pelosi is awkwardly positioned. AOC’s clique is made up of four women of color; Pelosi and Hoyer are old, white, establishment Democrats. On Israel, Omar and Tlaib can take the simple, clear, and controversial position to support BDS; Pelosi’s position must be more nuanced, because the BDS issue fractures her coalition.
Anti-Trump commentators often complain that GOP politicians lack the “courage” to publicly denounce Trump when they disagree with him. Those politicians aren’t stupid; Trump’s Twitter account, with its 63 million-plus followers, allows him to impose his will on the party.
Democrats now face a similar quandary. AOC’s influencer clique is the most formidable on the left, and Democratic elected officials know it. Almost all of the Democratic presidential candidates support AOC’s Green New Deal, and at a recent Democratic debate, every single candidate raised their hand when asked if they would have the government provide free health care to illegal immigrants — despite that policy being broadly unpopular.
This much is clear: with the Mueller investigation over, the Democrats are at the mercy of “the squad,” for better or worse.