The inside story of how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went from 'Sandy the Bartender' to a celebrity lawmaker on a radical mission to upend Washington

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Scott Starrett was craving tacos.

The 32-year-old had recently moved to New York City from Austin, Texas. So when a tiny taqueria called Flats Fix opened up around the corner from his Manhattan office, he soon became a regular with his graphic design-firm colleagues.

Because it was 2016, lunch conversation would frequently turn to the presidential race. One friendly bartender would often join in. Her name was Sandy.

“Everyone just loved Sandy,” Starrett said. “She had an infectious kindness, an infectious presence.”

The 26-year-old Bronx native would talk about her time interning in Sen. Ted Kennedy’s office in college. Starrett would bring up his work for local candidates in Texas. Sandy started volunteering for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

Then Donald Trump was elected.

Soon after, the bartender and political organiser raised some money and road-tripped out to North Dakota, where Native Americans were leading protests against the Dakota Access Oil pipeline. Starrett lent her a camera to document the trip.

When she got back, she had a new idea. She might run for office. Starrett and his design firm got to work on branding.

They created a campaign poster inspired by the United Farm Workers of the 1960s. It could’ve been mistaken for a Netflix show ad.

In blaring-blue and yellow block type alongside an image of Sandy, it read: ꜟOcasio!

Sandy, now better known as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was running for the US House of Representatives.

Eighteen months later, she became the youngest woman to be elected to Congress.

Along the way, she beat a popular and powerful 20-year incumbent in her own party. And she’s proved to be the most disruptive new Democrat in decades, striking fear in both Republicans and Democrats.

This is the story of how her climb began, and where it’s going next. It’s based on conversations with people who have known Ocasio-Cortez throughout her life and a recent interview conducted with the new lawmaker at INSIDER.

‘Sandy for president’

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez took a breath and ascended the stage. It was January 17, 2011, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Ocasio-Cortez was about to speak to her fellow Boston University students.

Onstage, the dean of students, Kenneth Elmore, asked her: “Can this be the generation that’s great, Sandy?”

It was a question inspired by King.

“Let’s see,” Ocasio-Cortez said. She pushed a long bang behind her ear. Then she began her speech, delivering it with a preacher’s cadence and an activist’s confidence.

“Greatness has never been a result of circumstance or fortune,” she said. “It is not an inherited trait or a function of destiny. Greatness is reserved for the delinquents, the combatants of the status quo.”

Ocasio-Cortez had natural confidence when speaking to crowds. When she travelled to Niger for a junior-year semester abroad, she didn’t know any French. At the end of the four months, she delivered a speech in French to the faculty.

Most every Friday afternoon on campus, she helped lead student discussions, called Coffee and Conversations. She’d listen to her peers debate the meaning of love and the Affordable Care Act, and then she’d conclude the two hours with her own thoughts.

She didn’t play it safe.

“It was always a little bit edgy – she wasn’t afraid to take us to the next level,” Bruna Maia, a BU classmate, said.

Ocasio-Cortez also led BU’s Alianza Latina and held meetings with college students across the city to discuss student debt and economic inequality. Yet she didn’t think of herself as an activist.

“I didn’t understand why people called me an activist,” she told INSIDER. “I felt like I was just saying things that were very common sense. I would just say, ‘Hey, kids in the Bronx should have a good education.’ And they’d be like, ‘Oh, she’s an activist.'”

“And I was, like, why is it when I say these things I’m an activist, but when this person says these things they’re just a responsible parent or auntie or whatever?”

Maybe people said it because they were inspired. Maia says that when it came to Ocasio-Cortez, their friends joked about her aspirations.

“We would say ‘Sandy for president’ because we were, like, ‘Yes, you’re speaking my truth right now.'”

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez 25Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

A scrappy army

Ocasio-Cortez’s father died of lung cancer when she was a sophomore in college. He was 48. Her Puerto Rican mother cleaned houses to support her two kids. But the money wasn’t enough, and she had to fight off foreclosure.

After Ocasio-Cortez graduated from college, she wanted to help, so she moved home to the Bronx and supplemented her nonprofit jobs by waiting tables and mixing drinks at night.

She made the most of the service-industry work, befriending customers and building a support network of colleagues.

“I got really, really, really good at listening to people, and I got really good at understanding people’s needs, beyond just food and drink,” she said. But she also had to grow a “really thick skin” to deal with rude customers and harassment.

Ocasio cortez timelineSamantha Lee/Business Insider

“You get used to people putting themselves above you all the time,” she went on. “You really start to realise that a person who’s treating you badly is really just expressing a problem with themselves.”

Soon after Election Day in 2016, Ocasio-Cortez’s younger brother, Gabriel, sent her name to Brand New Congress, a Bernie Sanders-inspired group recruiting candidates for the House and Senate.

When she got home from her North Dakota trip, a leader of BNC called her out of the blue with an ask: Will you run for US Congress in New York’s 14th district?

BNC cofounder Saikat Chakrabarti said the group wasn’t looking for anyone to challenge the district’s 10-term Democratic incumbent when they reached out to the 27-year-old.

But after a few calls and a meeting with Ocasio-Cortez, Chakrabarti thought, “Holy crap: You’re an incredible candidate.”

It took a few months of convincing, but Ocasio-Cortez, still moved by what she saw at Standing Rock, said yes.

The congressional campaign began with a handful of volunteers, living-room stump speeches, and a coalition of local progressive support.

They proposed big ideas: a universal jobs guarantee, abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, and tuition-free public college.

Justice Democrats, another Sanders-inspired group that Chakrabarti founded, gave Ocasio-Cortez media and policy training. Volunteers led an aggressive door-knocking, phone-calling, and texting effort.

Ocasio-Cortez quit Flats Fix in mid-February 2018. Chakrabarti moved home to New York in early 2018 to cochair the campaign. Ocasio-Cortez’s press secretary, Corbin Trent, left his wife, kids, and food-truck business in Tennessee to sleep on Chakrabarti’s couch.

The crew was unconventional and politically inexperienced.

Then a pair of 20-something socialist filmmakers from Detroit produced a polished, low-budget ad that framed Ocasio-Cortez as a courageous working-class underdog.

The two-minute spot went viral. Donations jumped, hundreds of new volunteers turned out to the field offices, and Vogue published a glowing profile.

The ad’s central message: Economic inequality is the issue of our time.

embed type
html

The video caught the attention of another young woman of colour running an insurgent Democratic primary bid. Ayanna Pressley remembers watching it several times in a row and saying aloud to herself: “Hell yes.”

“I was struck by her rawness, her conviction – she’ll hate me saying this – her beauty,” said Pressley, now Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman.

Two weeks before the election, Rep. Ro Khanna became the only member of Congress to endorse Ocasio-Cortez.

He made the decision at 2 a.m. It was particularly tortured because he’d already endorsed her opponent, Rep. Joe Crowley.

But the progressive Democrat thought to himself: “This is the type of person who deserves to have a shot to serve. She’s doing it for all the right reasons.”

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez 8Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

‘Socialists are sexy’: overnight celebrity

No one was prepared for Ocasio-Cortez to beat Crowley in the Democratic primary. Or, even stranger, for her to become a star and the next right-wing boogeywoman.

“No way, shape, or form could I think that any of us saw that coming,” said Vigie Ramos Rios, Ocasio-Cortez’s co-campaign manager. “I’ve had moments where I’ve described it like getting hit by a tsunami, a wildfire, and an earthquake all at once.”

But on June 26, Ocasio-Cortez shocked the American political world. The difference was just over 4,000 voters in the Bronx and Queens. In a deep blue district, she was virtually assured a seat in the 116th Congress.

Crowley declined to comment for this story.

Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and Valerie Jarrett called. About 1,000 media outlets requested interviews over the next three days. After tweeting about her preferred lipstick (Stila Stay All Day Liquid in Beso), it sold out the day after the primary.

In a political moment that rewards celebrity, she’s already more famous than most other members of Congress and many likely 2020 presidential contenders.

Ocasio-Cortez credits social media with powering her rise. Since the first days of her campaign, she’s used it to develop a relationship with her followers, sharpen her message, and control the media narrative.

When she launched her bid, in May 2017, she had fewer than 300 Twitter followers. Her Facebook livestreams got a few dozen likes. But by primary day, she’d grown her Twitter following to 60,000 – more than many sitting House members.

She argues that her online presence allowed her to bypass a media largely uninterested in her race and communicate directly with voters.

“It was literally just through tweeting and getting that feedback and learning through commentary and testing messages,” she said. “Because every time you tweet something how it performs is basically like an A/B test.”

Ocasio-Cortez hit 2 million Twitter followers on Saturday, far more than the other 60 freshman House Democrats combined. And she has a shiny new handle to go with it: @AOC.

She uses social media like a lifestyle blogger or a celebrity influencer. She talks like a normal person. She details the challenges and gives advice. Thousands of people tune in to watch her talk politics and make Instant Pot mac and cheese on Instagram Live.

“She’s willing to let people see her fears, and she’s willing to let people see her hesitancies, and she’s willing to let people see a process that normally is shadowed,” Trent said.

Ocasio-Cortez has always run her own social-media accounts.

“It’s funny because a lot of people don’t think I do,” she said. “I was sitting next to a public official here in New York and I had pulled up my Twitter feed and I was drafting a tweet, and she was, like, ‘You write those?’ And I was, like, ‘Yeah.'”

And as many have pointed out, she’s skilled at creating viral moments – often when clapping back at her critics.

Much like millennial conservative influencers Ben Shapiro and Charlie Kirk, who’ve built their personas around “owning the libs,” Ocasio-Cortez seems to relish defending herself and lampooning the right wing.

She regularly calls online critics sexist, racist, and ageist. She turns attacks on her clothes, childhood home, and high-school yearbook photos into Twitter memes and frequently ridicules Fox News and its relentless coverage of her.

In almost Trumpian fashion, Ocasio-Cortez slammed the president’s son on Twitter just hours after Trent told The Washington Post she had no comment on Don Jr.’s meme suggesting democratic-socialist rule would mean Americans will have to eat dogs.

Perhaps unlike the president, she doesn’t hit send on every angry tweet she drafts.

“There are so many tweets that do not see the light of day – there are so many,” she said, laughing. “In my house we joke: We call it emptying the cart. It’s like when you go online shopping and then you’re, like, ‘Oh no, never mind,’ and you leave the website.”

Does she run her most controversial missives by her staff? “Once in a blue moon.”

Buffoonish right-wing attacks on her regularly inspire a legion of memes parodying them before she even has a chance to respond. The cheapshots only further endear her to her supporters.

But critics, including Democrats, have also put forward substantive criticism of the political newcomer. They argue her policy proposals are too costly, impracticable, or ill-informed.

Fact-checkers have taken issue with inaccurate or sweeping claims she’s made about the cost of programs she supports, like Medicare for All, and her claims about the unemployment rate.

Ocasio-Cortez calls constant questions about how she’ll pay for her proposals “very disingenuous.” She argues there are myriad ways to fund free college, Medicare for All, and a federal jobs guarantee. She subscribes to modern monetary theory, a burgeoning theory among some economists positing that the federal debt is not an economic restraint for the US.

“You can pay for it by saving costs on expenditures that we’re already doing,” she said. “We can do it by saving money on military spending. We can pay for it by raising taxes on the very rich. We can pay for it with a transaction tax. We can pay for it with deficit spending.”

She said Modern Monetary Theory, which holds that the government doesn’t need to balance the budget and that budget surpluses actually hurt the economy, “absolutely … needs to be a larger part of our conversation.”

Ocasio-Cortez staked out a more concrete position this week when she told “60 Minutes” that she supports taxing the super-rich – those who make above $US10 million – at 70% rate to help pay for programs like the Green New Deal.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez 12Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The voice of a new generation

Ocasio-Cortez was 11 when the Twin Towers came down and 18 when the Great Recession struck. She watched President Barack Obama bail out the banks, college debt soar, and Occupy Wall Street fail to extract concrete wins.

That series of events, she said, has defined her generation.

“Our whole adolescence was shaped by war, was shaped by the increased erosion of our civil liberties and privacy rights, and then was shaped as soon as we got into college by a ground-shaking recession that has haunted our economic outcomes ever since,” she said. “We have never seen an America where the fruits of capitalism have actually been good for an entire generation of millennials.”

The Democratic Party suffered widespread losses at the local level under the Obama administration. Like many, Ocasio-Cortez found inspiration in Sanders’ strident argument that wealth and income inequality represent “the great moral issue of our time.”

Right now young voters, particularly women, are more left-leaning than they have been in decades.

Nearly 60% of voters between 18 and 25 identify as Democrats or lean left. And those under 30 went for Democrats by 31 points in the 2018 midterms.

By virtue of her identity, her message, and her online medium, Ocasio-Cortez is speaking directly to young people, immigrants, and people of colour, the nontraditional voters Democrats must energize. She won 80% of the votes cast in precincts in which the average voter was under 40, according to the progressive think tank Data for Progress.

Some Democrats argue that the success of candidates like Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Beto O’Rourke in Texas, and Andrew Gillum in Florida can be attributed partly to their appeal as attractive young people.

“It turns out the actual solution to gaining progressive power is running young hot people in low-turnout primaries,” said Sean McElwee, a progressive activist and cofounder of Data for Progress.

McElwee first met Ocasio-Cortez in mid-2017. He DM’d her on Twitter, inviting her to the weekly happy hour he hosts at a dive bar Manhattan’s East Village where politicians like New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson sometimes drop by. He predicted Ocasio-Cortez would win her primary seven weeks before she did.

Naomi Burton, one half of the team that produced Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign ad, said youthful appeal was a theme among the progressives she worked with last cycle.

“Socialists are sexy because they’re young people, they’re people of colour,” Burton said. “They are young, beautiful people who also have great politics and an ability to talk about that.”

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez 20Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Moving away from socialism?

Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t always called herself a socialist. She was “honestly questioning” whether to support Sanders or Clinton as the 2016 primary heated up, said Shah, the former classmate.

But soon after she launched her campaign, a college acquaintance reached out suggesting she look into the Democratic Socialists of America.

So she went to a DSA meeting in a Washington Heights church basement. The theme was labour. The group brought in several undocumented Hispanic immigrants who described their experiences being exploited in the workplace.

There was a translator, but Ocasio-Cortez speaks Spanish, so she listened to what the immigrants had to say without any filter.

“They were talking about how they were working in these factories with no windows, and they were being made to operate heavy machinery with no training, and that they were being paid far, far below anything that resembles a living wage,” she said.

She was moved by their stories, and by the solidarity in the room.

“I had never experienced something like that before,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “You know, you read about these things, but it’s not the same as being in the same room as that.”

DSA was not immediately sold on her.

When she met with the group again during the summer of 2017, they “were not impressed,” said Aaron Taube, a leader of the Queens DSA branch.

Taube wasn’t at the gathering but said the then 27-year-old was “still learning and growing as a candidate.”

The group reconsidered its support in early 2018 when the campaign reached back out.

Annie Shields, a DSA member and Nation magazine editor, said Ocasio-Cortez impressed her at a series of endorsement meetings in which she showed a rare ability to command the room and appeal to an ideologically diverse and often warring coalition.

“It’s a charisma, and then you couple that with real radical politics,” Shields said. “That’s a combination I had never seen before.”

A plaza near the 103rd Street 7 train stop in Corona Queens, a neighbourhood in Ocasio-Cortez's district.Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderA plaza near the 103rd Street 7 train stop in Corona Queens, a neighbourhood in Ocasio-Cortez’s district.

DSA endorsed the insurgent campaign in late April after extensive vetting. Their 103 canvassers knocked on 13,000 doors and led an aggressive get-out-the-vote effort over the next two months.

With Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid, Trump’s election, and Ocasio-Cortez’s rise, DSA has seen a resurgence in national prominence.

Between 2015 and 2017, a period encompassing the span of Sanders’s campaign, the group grew from 8,000 dues-paying members to 25,000. During that time the average age of the group’s members dropped from 64 to 30. Its membership surged the day after Trump was elected and again the day after Ocasio-Cortez won her primary. Today, it’s 55,000 members strong (but still an insignificant force on the national political stage).

With newly-elected Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, DSA now has two lawmakers in Congress.

But the vast majority of Democrats are allergic to the group and any mention of socialism.

Khanna, a leader of the House Progressive Caucus whose district encompasses Silicon Valley, dismisses democratic socialism as bad policy and bad politics.

“I philosophically disagree with it – not for political reasons but for substantive reasons,” he said. “If you believe literally, as it’s defined, than you would say that government could take over Apple. Let me tell you, that’s a horrible idea. I’m very glad that Tim Cook is running Apple.”

The former economics professor wants to reform our “crony capitalist system,” but believes in free enterprise.

Ocasio-Cortez and her team seem to understand this. After defining democratic socialism in vague terms, Ocasio-Cortez hasn’t discussed it much in recent months.

“I’m not here to fight for or defend this ‘ism’ or label, which is why you always just see me talk about policy,” she said, adding that there are other people who are more qualified to talk about DSA’s ideology. “I just don’t think it’s my role.”

These days, the new congresswoman is reluctant to align herself fully with any one group or thinker. She says she’s seeking policy advice from a variety of progressive organisations and experts. (DSA leaders, including Taube and national director Maria Svart, have a weekly call on Fridays to discuss policy issues with Ocasio-Cortez’s legislative adviser, Randy Abreu.)

Ocasio-Cortez is also critical of the establishment advice-givers. She argues that many of them have a “bias towards maximization of corporate profit” – a point she made when she criticised a Harvard orientation for freshman lawmakers stacked with CEOs and lobbyists.

So she’s looking elswhere – to a different breed of academics, activists, issue experts, and journalists.

“We’re literally writing a whole new playbook, which means we can use some of the books and we can use some of the institutions and we can use some of the knowledge that’s been produced up to this point, but we have to do a lot of building our own institutions as well,” she said.

“What we’re really doing right now is saying, ‘What perspectives are not being heard right now? Let’s bring those to the table.'”

Disclaimer: Aaron Taube previously worked as a reporter for Business Insider.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez 7Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

An early overreach?

Ocasio-Cortez is new to Congress, and that means she doesn’t have much power there, in the traditional sense.

So what does she do now?

With her knack for igniting conversations and grabbing the spotlight, she has a handful of levers of power in Washington: grassroots fundraising, media attention, and outside organising.

If she’s willing to make a few enemies, she could help insurgent candidates mount primary challenges against Democratic incumbents.

And Ocasio-Cortez is willing to make a few enemies. With the help of Justice Democrats, the group that helped spot and empower her, she plans to push the party to the left by focusing on replacing incumbents in safe blue seats.

Progressive groups have already trained targets on Reps. Henry Cuellar of Texas, Kathleen Rice of New York, and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts. They’re planning to run more progressive and diverse challengers.

“Democratic incumbents are kind of f—ed next cycle because there’s a lot of young women of colour who are all much more interesting and exciting and have more interesting policy ideas than all the white guys in Congress,” says McElwee, the progressive organiser.

Chakrabarti, now Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, said it isn’t an explicit effort to push out incumbents, but rather a movement to encourage new kinds of candidates to run.

“It just so happens that a lot of people of colour, a lot of women – they are going to be [running] in safe Democratic seats,” he said.

The push has scared party leaders, who counter that the left’s full focus in 2020 should be on winning back the White House, flipping the Senate, and protecting the Democratic House majority.

“I would like to see our focus on turning Texas blue, winning states in the Midwest, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, making sure we expand our majority,” Khanna said. He said his endorsement of Ocasio-Cortez was a rare “exception” to his rule of supporting his Democratic colleagues.

Many veteran DC strategists agree with Khanna, and see the bold challenge as a cocky overreading of the left’s mandate. They argue that groups like Justice Democrats have little evidence that their strategy would be successful across the country.

“Do I think this is the best use of our resources, the best use of our star power, the best use of our brain power, going into what very well may be the most important election of our lifetimes? I would say that no, this is not it,” said Rodell Mollineau, a DC-based consultant and former congressional staffer.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez 4Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Making the Democratic Party great again

Ocasio-Cortez’s number one policy priority is the Green New Deal.

The name invokes FDR’s Depression-era “New Deal” public programs and deliberately frames the proposal as a reincarnation of a Democratic Party of the past.

It proposes sweeping public investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure. The goal is to fight both climate change and inequality, to move the US to 100% renewable energy within 10 years and institute a federal jobs guarantee.

It’s the kind of aggressive, economically-focused idea that got Ocasio-Cortez elected. It polls well. (A recent Yale survey found a large majority of Americans support it, including a majority of Republicans).

“What else is there? If we don’t save the planet what else is there to worry about?” Trent said. “We either believe that the scientists are right and we have 12 years to avoid cataclysmic failure of our climate system, or we don’t.”

The left hopes to hash out the details of an actionable plan by 2020 – and make the issue a litmus test for Democratic presidential candidates in the meantime.

But the proposal is facing fierce resistance from powerful Democrats in Washington – including newly-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

This conflict came to life when, on the second day of congressional freshman orientation, Ocasio-Cortez led young environmental activists in a protest outside Pelosi’s office – a very unusual move for any Democrat, let alone one not yet sworn in.

Trent said Ocasio-Cortez knew move could backfire.

“That took courage. She’s no fool, she knew that could go wrong. But she thought that was the right thing to do, so she did it,” he said.

But footage of the protest – and with it, the concept of a Green New Deal – went viral. Pelosi said she was “inspired by the energy” of the demonstrators.

The disagreement between Ocasio-Cortez and Pelosi is purportedly over – what else in Washington? – the establishment of a committee. Specifically, Ocasio-Cortez and her allies want the House Committee on Climate Change to commit to drafting the Green New Deal.

Pelosi and the rest of Democratic leadership have refused to give the committee such a sweeping mandate. They have denied it subpoena power and chosen a chair who hasn’t voiced support for the Green New Deal.

Chakrabarti said no one in Congress has come to him with substantive objections to the Green New Deal. He calls their concerns “all politics.” Unless things change dramatically, the committee will be “dead on arrival,” he said.

“Literally nobody in Congress is thinking about this in terms of what we need to do to solve the problem,” Chakrabarti said. “This is why people hate their government. This is why people hate Congress.”

Other priorities, like abolishing ICE, are taking a backseat for the moment.

“We’ve got to talk a bit more about that one internally,” Chakrabarti said of the proposal to eliminate the federal agency. He said the team will likely sign on to a new effort led by progressives to reframe the immigration debate around economic demand for foreign workers.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez 9Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

‘You can’t punch all the time’

It hasn’t yet been a year since Ocasio-Cortez quit working behind a bar in Manhattan.

She still needs to find an apartment in Washington. For the next few months, she’ll be subletting a place while her boyfriend, a web developer with whom she shares her one-bedroom in the Bronx, finds them a more permanent spot.

“We’re kind of like splitting up duties,” she said. “He’s going to go apartment hunting while I’m casting votes and stuff.”

Ocasio-Cortez has found an office, though.

It’s just across the street from where she led the protest outside Pelosi’s office in November.

It’s unclear how welcome she is in the neighbourhood.

There’s a fair amount of concern among the Democratic establishment in Washington that Ocasio-Cortez will throw bombs rather than make friends.

But her allies argue that without seniority in Congress, playing an outside game is the most effective route for a freshman lawmaker with the mandate and star power Ocasio-Cortez has.

Many believe she’s already picked that path.

“You don’t announce that you might declare war on your colleagues and then expect to roll up your sleeves with them and do the hard work of passing legislation,” said one Democratic strategist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Establishment Democrats are urging the new lawmaker to make friends. They hope her natural charm will make her a unifier.

“She seems quite charming, she seems quite open and accessible and likeable, and I think some people will be surprised at how much they like her,” the strategist said. “What she does with that and how she uses it to advance her goals, that will show whether she is savvy.”

But there’s also concern on the left that Ocasio-Cortez’s team of outsiders lacks the political smarts to know which fights to pick. Many say she should enlist some insiders.

“The left is going to tell you to punch all the time, and you can’t punch all the time,” McElwee said. “As long as she’s not listening to the leftist of the left of the leftists now, she’ll end up being fine.”

But that could be tricky for anyone uninterested in endangering their relationships in Washington.

“If you’re somebody who’s made a career on the Hill and you join our office, you might be ending that career,” Chakrabarti said. The office is sifting through thousands of résumés to build their team.

It doesn’t seem like Ocasio-Cortez is worried.

The day after her swearing-in, a right-wing Twitter account mocked her for an old college video in which she dances with friends, recreating a scene from the iconic 1980s film “Breakfast Club,” a movie about a group of kids who realise the burdens of the world would soon befall them, but that they could handle them if they stuck together.

Ocasio-Cortez posted a new video the next day.

She’s outside her new office, with a plaque reading “Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” on the wall behind her. The music starts and she points right at the camera and starts dancing to “War” by Edwin Starr.

The post has a caption: “If Republicans thought women dancing in college is scandalous, wait till they find out women dance in Congress, too!”

The message got more likes than any she’s ever sent.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.