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OPINION

AOC will fight fire with fire on Supreme Court nominee

Trump is already running against the ‘radical left,’ so why not harness the passion of that movement?

Photo illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe.; Globe file photos

Can Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stop Mitch McConnell, the way she helped stop Joe Kennedy III?

For Democrats, it’s worth a try.

On Sunday, with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York standing beside her, the 30-year-old congresswoman known as AOC helped frame the only message with a chance of slowing down McConnell’s rush to confirm President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. That would be fear of losing the unrestrained exercise of raw power that McConnell relishes as the Senate majority leader with a fellow Republican in the White House.

“We need to tell him that he [McConnell] is playing with fire,” said Ocasio-Cortez, who represents parts of the Bronx and Queens. “We need to make sure that this vacancy is protected, that our election continues, and that the American people have their say.”

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Compare that to Joe Biden’s high-minded, but tepid, call for Senate Republicans to “uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience… Cool the flames that have been engulfing our country.” Please. Under Trump’s spell, Republicans worry not at all about constitutional duty or conscience. They will joyfully fan the flames, especially if it means sending another conservative justice to the Supreme Court.

It takes fire to fight fire. AOC used the one minute she had at last month’s Democratic National Convention to remind Democrats that they need the youth, passion, and progressive agenda she represents. That’s especially true after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the battle over her replacement.

AOC recently proved her battle-readiness on behalf of Senator Edward J. Markey when she helped the 74-year-old incumbent defeat a Kennedy in Massachusetts. It helped that Markey cosponsored the Green New Deal with AOC, as well as embraced the fiery activism that goes with it. In return, he reaped the glamour and political heat of a campaign ad starring AOC.

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”She’s remarkable," said Markey’s chief campaign adviser, John Walsh. “She’s a very clear communicator.” The Markey race, said Walsh, shows that voters will respond to a progressive agenda “if you organize and speak clearly to them.”

The country, of course, is not Massachusetts, and centrist Democrats have been wary of running a presidential campaign that takes its cue from a blue state primary fight. But Trump is already running against the “radical left," so why not harness the passion of that movement? As Walsh sees it, “We’re not playing bridge, we’re playing rugby, and it’s time we suit up for that game."

With Ginsburg’s death, the playing field didn’t just shift; it cratered. Democrats need to recognize that no matter what the polls say about the upcoming election, Republicans will do all they can to seize the moment and move the court ever more to the right. The first fight is to stop McConnell from confirming Trump’s nominee before Nov. 3.

To that end, McConnell will give cover to Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who is in danger of losing her seat, and let her put out a mixed message: Trump “has the constitutional authority to make a nomination,” and she has no objection to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s beginning the process of reviewing his nominee’s credentials. "But, I do not believe that the Senate should vote on the nominee prior to the election” and “the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the president who is elected on November 3.”

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But to actually convince McConnell to hold off on action before Election Day? That will take more than polling that shows public opposition to ramming through Trump’s nominee. As Ocasio-Cortez said, it will take mobilization on “an unprecedented scale to ensure this vacancy is reserved for the next president.”

That’s not a call to violence, as much as Republicans try to spin it that way to voters. That’s a call to battle against Trump and his allies who are trying to turn back time and strip away civil rights and women’s rights. To win that battle, Biden and the Democrats need all the help they can get.


Joan Vennochi can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.