Florida congressman Matt Gaetz has a nasty habit. When he’s not berating parents of school shooting victims, or inviting right-wing trolls to the State of the Union, or posting racist tweets, he’s obsessing over Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The Miami New Times recently outlined several occasions in which Gaetz—a man who told Politico that he aspires to be the “conservative AOC”—has demonstrated a strange fixation on the 29-year-old freshman congresswoman:
He’s called her “adorable.” And in a reference to the dating app Tinder, he even creepily told TMZ this month that he’d “swipe right” on the idea of working across the aisle with her.
In a Daily Caller interview last Thursday in which he alternated between insulting her intelligence and complimenting her, Gaetz once again felt the need to comment on Ocasio-Cortez’s looks. He referred to her as an “attractive lady from Queens.”
In his repeated interviews about AOC, he condescendingly calls her ideas dumb and “dangerous for the country.” He also says she is good-looking and begs her to work with him. And he’s made similar statements in various media outlets despite the fact she has not publicly replied to any of his advances.
With an approach I’m sure Gaetz would (erroneously) describe as swagger, he attempted to grab Ocasio-Cortez’s attention on marijuana legalization, an issue on which the ideologically opposite lawmakers agree. He even left a thirsty quote tweet in response to the viral video of Ocasio-Cortez dancing.
But when he’s not alluding to her beauty or making corny innuendos, he’s chastising her for likes.
In politics, women are often either characterized as hideous harpies like Hillary Clinton or pretty idiots whose “craziness” is bound up with their sex appeal. (Even now, we can hardly escape being labeled hysterical overall, no matter what adjective is used to render us irrational.) To her critics, Ocasio-Cortez is firmly in the pretty idiot category, with her dedication to climate change, taxation of the rich, and the abolishment of ICE reduced to foolish nonsense from a doe-eyed Latina with a great rack. This is embarrassingly evident among men on the right, who seem twisted by their own sexism; unable to temper their attraction in spite of their contempt for Ocasio-Cortez’s policies.
The conservative obsession with Ocasio-Cortez is already a well-documented phenomenon. Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro tried to challenge Ocasio-Cortez to a debate last summer. Fox News has mentioned the congresswoman more than any Democratic politician running for president in 2020 (except Sen. Elizabeth Warren). A Republican strategist called her a “little girl” on national television. A new billboard in Times Square blames her for Amazon’s decision not to build a new headquarters in New York City. The right has a new target, and they’re so elated they can hardly contain themselves.
But while not always oozing sexual undertones, there’s something about the right’s fixation that is reminiscent of both middle school boys and awkward men who neg women at bars: their exasperating reliance upon mockery and bravado for attention.
The Huffington Post spoke with experts who deduced that conservative obsession with Ocasio-Cortez is rooted in fear of her power and influence; sexualizing her minimizes that power. This was evident when the Federalist’s Jesse Kelly appeared on NRATV with host Grant Stinchfield in January; the latter called her a “socialist darling” (yes, really) and discussed her 60 Minutes interview, where she proposed a controversial 70 percent marginal tax rate.
Before slamming her policy, Kelly made sure to take a moment to comment on her attractiveness:
GRANT STINCHFIELD: So Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s math doesn’t work up. She wants to stick it to rich people. But the truth is, she wants to stick it to all Americans because even if you go back to guns, she would like to do away with the Second Amendment and have all our guns confiscated. This is the kind of Looney Tune-world that she lives in. Unbelievable. Joining me now is Marine Corps combat veteran Jesse Kelly. Jesse, welcome to the program.
JESSE KELLY: She’s kind of cute though, Grant.
STINCHFIELD: Well, throw that picture back up. You’re telling me, you’re telling me that that is cute? I know you have a thing for Kamala Harris, too.
KELLY: There is nothing wrong with a little bit of crazy, man. A little bit of crazy can be fun. I’m not talking about marrying her, I’m just talking about a date or two. She looks kind of cute.
STINCHFIELD: I will agree with you, there is nothing wrong with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s looks. There’s not. She may get a crazy face when she starts talking about taxes, that I see.
MAGA-loving cartoonist Ben Garrison couldn’t help himself either. In February, Garrison published an illustration of Ocasio-Cortez working as a bartender. While rendering her facial features grotesque, playing on the racist theme of the crazy, fiery Latina that Kelly and Stinchfield obsessed over, Ocasio-Cortez’s body was far more sexualized than Garrison’s other illustrations of women politicians. He drew Ocasio-Cortez in low-rise pants, revealing her navel and a flat stomach, and a cropped tank top that says “socialism is sexy” across a pair of perky, round breasts.
In a tweet, writer Charlotte Shane summed up the undercurrent of lust in Garrison’s illustration perfectly: “I love how he made sure to try to mock her facial features but when it came to her body he was like ‘I fuckin give up, she’s a 10'.”
As Lili Loofbourow observed for Slate: “She’s been caricatured. Mocked. Called a whore. Had a fake nude photo circulated. These are grand old scripts intended to shrink Ocasio-Cortez down and put her in her place.” And while the right’s sexist preoccupation with Ocasio-Cortez drags on, she can relish in the fact that it has brought relatively obscure political issues in the national limelight, like the Green New Deal and marginal tax rates. I have a feeling Ocasio-Cortez is more interested in political change than she is in the boring sexism of Gaetz and company.