DETROIT -- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., was not in Motor City for this week’s Democratic primary debates -- but she was there in spirit.
A year after the former bartender shot to prominence with an upset primary win over establishment Democrat Joe Crowley, many of her hard-left campaign planks are now gospel among top 2020 hopefuls.
"We must have and adopt a Green New Deal," Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., declared Wednesday night in Detroit.
And support for "Medicare-for-all" has become a virtual litmus test with the base. Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., adamantly defended the policy at Tuesday night's debate amid attacks from lower-polling, more moderate primary rivals.
The single-payer health care plan has been pushed by Sanders for years -- long before AOC became a household acronym. But Ocasio-Cortez helped popularize the policy once embraced by a select few. In fact, her original campaign site is plastered with policies that, in 2018, were mostly on the fringes of the party -- from abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to health care for all. Today, they're mainstream.
"Improved and Expanded Medicare-for-all is the ethical, logical, and affordable path to ensuring no person goes without dignified healthcare," her campaign website said. "Medicare-for-all will reduce the existing costs of healthcare (and make Medicare cheaper, too!) by allowing all people in the US to buy into a universal healthcare system."
Other platforms included “housing as a human right,” a call to abolish ICE, higher education for all, gun control, “a peace economy” and the end to private prisons. Notably, her site called for making public colleges tuition-free, and a one-time student debt cancellation. Warren and Sanders both are pitching sweeping student loan forgiveness programs in the 2020 campaign, while Sanders continues to push for making public colleges tuition-free.
Further, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., backs a federal jobs guarantee, another plank that AOC's campaign site endorsed on the basis that "anyone who is willing and able to work shouldn’t struggle to find employment."
"A Federal Jobs Guarantee would create a baseline standard for employment that includes a $15 minimum wage (pegged to inflation), full healthcare, and child and sick leave for all," the site said.
Ocasio-Cortez has also been a leading proponent of the Green New Deal -- a massive government-led overhaul of the economy meant to transform America into a zero-emissions country while also encompassing jobs guarantees, free housing and a wealth of other democratic socialist goodies.
"It’s time to shift course and implement a Green New Deal – a transformation that implements structural changes to our political and financial systems in order to alter the trajectory of our environment," her campaign website said.
This year, a resolution calling for the Green New Deal was sponsored by several top 2020 candidates, including Harris.
On Tuesday, Sanders and Warren were unapologetic in their support of not only the Green New Deal, but also Medicare-for-all, abolishing private insurance, health care for illegal immigrants and decriminalizing illegal border crossings.
On Wednesday, candidates including Harris, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro all staked out similar positions -- and took aim at the more centrist former Vice President Joe Biden when he opposed such far-left policies.
The debate followed a trend set at the prior round of debates last month, in which candidates rose their hands almost unanimously to provide health care to illegal immigrants. Republicans could barely believe their candor, with President Trump declaring the moment “the end of the race.”
A number of other candidates went on to raise their hands for a question asking whether they would decriminalize illegal border crossings.
A number of the more moderate candidates -- such as Biden, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper -- have pushed back. On Tuesday, Delaney accused Warren and Sanders of engaging in “fairy tale economics” while others warned that, in the Midwest, such policies catered to deep blue coastal districts would fail.
But even the moderates appeared to concede that some form of universal health care was necessary, even if they didn’t agree with scrapping private health care.
“We can create a universal health care system to give everyone basic health care for free, and I have a proposal to do it,” Delaney said. “But we don't have to go around and be the party of subtraction, and telling half the country, who has private health insurance, that their health insurance is illegal.”
Moderates also called for a transfer of American energy to renewals, as the Green New Deal demands, even if they disagreed with the time frame or the method on how to achieve it.
In a sign that the moderate wing -- polling in single digits save for Biden -- will struggle, Warren shot back at Delaney with one of the zingers of the night.
“I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for. I don’t get it,” she said to wild applause.
On Wednesday, Castro scolded Biden for his opposition to decriminalizing illegal border crossings: "It looks like one of us has learned the lessons of the past and one of us hasn't."
Ocasio-Cortez weighed in on Tuesday by tweeting her thoughts from the sidelines, and was apparently not pleased with those trying to stake out a more moderate position on health care.
“Medicare for All is single-payer healthcare. That’s it. That’s the policy,” she tweeted.
She was also not pleased with the denigration by moderates of the Green New Deal, after Hickenlooper called the inclusion of a federal jobs guarantee program a “distraction.”
“Calling the consideration of working people in climate policy a ‘distraction’ is what is truly unsustainable + unrealistic,” she said.
The dive to the AOC side of the political spectrum has left some members of the field pessimistic about the party’s 2020 chances.
“I'm worried about a few things we talked about tonight,” Ryan told Fox News on Tuesday after the debate. “I mean I like bold, I like moving in that direction but we’ve got to be very smart on how we do that and we can get there -- I’m for everybody having health care, I’m for reducing college costs, I’m for reducing student debt.”
“I just think if our nominee is going to be saying ‘we need to take away private health insurance’ then we’re going to have a real problem,” he said. “I think we’ll lose 48 states and I’m trying to figure out the two we’re going to win.”