If the Democrats want a winning strategy, they should be emphasizing RBG, not AOC.
With fewer than 50 days left before the election, virtually every Democrat — moderate and liberal alike — can agree on at least one thing. And that is: Since RBG — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — is 87 and ailing, the next president will almost certainly name her replacement on the Supreme Court. If Trump wins, and picks an arch-conservative, that appointment could alter American life for a generation.
By contrast, AOC — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — is an avowed socialist and a highly polarizing figure who divides Democrats instead of uniting them. Sen. Bernie Sanders has suggested that Joe Biden campaign with her. Since her parents are from Puerto Rico, and she'll turn 31 next month, she could certainly be helpful in energizing two groups the Democrats need: Latinos and young people.
But the costs would outweigh the benefits. Trump is eager to brand Biden a tool of the party's left wing and make AOC a poster child for the entire Democratic Party. The last thing Biden should do is give the president that kind of ammunition.
One key reason Trump won in 2016 was his ability to get religious conservatives to focus on the Supreme Court. Fully 26% of all voters identified themselves as "born again or evangelical Christians" in exit polls, and 4 out of 5 backed Trump. Of the 21% of voters who described the court as the "most important factor" in their decision, they broke 56 to 41 for Trump. One out of 7 voters called the court a nonfactor, and they backed Hillary Clinton, 55 to 37.
The reason is clear. At least since the Roe decision of 1973, the principle-based issues that religious conservatives care most about — from abortion and gay rights to religion in the public square — have all been adjudicated by the courts, not Congress. Those potent concerns overrode whatever doubts they had about Trump's personal life, which includes three wives, numerous sexual escapades and no discernible religious practice.
That's why Trump recently added 20 names to his list of potential Supreme Court picks, should he win a second term. He's already ensconced more than 200 federal judges, including two Supreme Court justices, and he wants his core supporters to focus on the courts rather than COVID. Much of what he says every day is false, but he was completely accurate when he noted, "Over the next four years, America's president will choose hundreds of federal judges, and in all likelihood, one, two, three and even four Supreme Court justices."
Democrats have to learn from Trump and use the court as a rallying cry — as a way of crystalizing the stakes for voters who don't think Biden is sufficiently young, energetic or liberal.
"It's frustrated me to no end that conservatives have taken the Supreme Court much more seriously and that Democrats, in years past, have not been able to utilize the issues surrounding the court to their advantage," said Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Democrats, to the Washington Post.
In addition to the court, the president is fiercely focusing on street violence and police conduct, and it's working. A recent poll by The New York Times in four swing states — Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire and Wisconsin — revealed that, by 49% to 47%, voters now think "law and order" is a "more important issue in the presidential race" than the pandemic. Moreover, 3 out of 5 describe "lawlessness and unrest" as a "major problem," while only 19% support "police defunding" as an answer to racial injustice.
This issue is particularly powerful with older voters, a group that backed Trump four years ago but that has been drifting toward Biden, in part because of the threat of the COVID outbreak. By a huge margin, 53 to 33, seniors in those four states said Biden had not done enough to denounce urban violence, and 7 out of 10 called crime a "major problem" in the country.
Even though Biden has clearly stated his opposition to defunding the police, his message is not getting through, with 44% in the four states saying he supports defunding and 39% recognizing that he opposes that strategy. AOC has declared, "The fight to defund policing continues." Does Biden really want to campaign with a woman who supports a highly controversial position that he himself opposes, and only 19% embrace?
The Democrats need a lot more focus on RBG, and a lot less on AOC.