Ocasio-Cortez breaks the rules – and that’s what scares her opponents

SAN DIEGO – Who’s afraid of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

A whole lot of Republican white men, it seems. I can smell the fear coming from Fox News host Tucker Carlson, radio host Rush Limbaugh, podcaster Ben Shapiro, and others.

Congress has more than enough lawyers. What it could really use is a few more bartenders.

The latter often have good social skills. They tend to understand customer service. And they’re usually good listeners. It also turns out that some of them can have a lot of grit.

Ocasio-Cortez defied expectations and earned her membership in the club. The 29-year-old Democrat built an upstart campaign from scratch, stared down her party’s establishment without flinching, clobbered by 15 points a Democratic incumbent who had been in office since she was in elementary school, and won her seat in Congress fair and square.

Not bad for a Puerto-Rican kid from Brooklyn.

Who could possibly have a beef with that version of the American Dream?

See above: A whole lot of white Republican men.

The former mixologist turned congresswoman-elect won’t be sworn in until January. She hasn’t even officially moved to Washington yet, having announced that she can’t afford rent in the nation’s capital until her first congressional paycheck rolls in.

Yet, as became clear during her recent trip to Capitol Hill for orientation meetings, she has already captured the public’s imagination. Tourists approached her for selfies. The media tracked her every move.

She’s the toast of the town. Except with Republicans, especially white males. They want her to be toast.

They constantly pick on her. They mock every misstep even though they overlooked similar blunders by Republican politicians they likely supported.

Imagine people who probably voted for George W. Bush suddenly concerned about someone mangling the English language. Imagine folks who cheered Sarah Palin suddenly being worried that a freshman in Congress hasn’t mastered every policy issue.

A lot of white males are already feeling squeezed out by immigration, trade deals, factory closings, university admissions, and all the rest.

You can see why they’re so intimidated by Ocasio-Cortez. Just look at how hard she worked to get this far in life. She’s no trust fund baby. She didn’t get into college as a legacy.

Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t follow tradition, wait her turn, or defer to elders. Her Democratic primary opponent, Joe Crowley, is 56-years-old and had every major endorsement in the district locked up. All those blessings, and a war chest full of money, was supposed to scare off his young challenger. It didn’t.

She doesn’t get pushed around, even by her own party. After she beat Crowley, her win was minimized by Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and she got talked down to by Assistant Democratic leader James Clyburn. Both Pelosi and Clyburn worked closely with Crowley, and they seemed to take his defeat personally. But that’s still no excuse for attacking the fellow Democrat who beat him.

Ocasio-Cortez can take a punch and return it with gusto. When Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina condescendingly suggested she become more educated after she said that refuge “isn’t a crime” for Central Americans any more than it was for “Jewish families fleeing Germany,” she hit back. She brought up Graham’s recent televised quip about how he feared a DNA ancestry test might reveal that he was part Iranian and suggested he become more culturally sensitive.

And because the congresswoman-elect has youth on her side, she could spend many more years needling her opponents – in both parties. Pelosi and Clyburn are 78, while Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer is 79. That over-the-hill gang has spent a lot more time grumbling about Trump than grooming successors.

Most of all, she knows who she is, and she doesn’t seem to care much what you think of her; she invites her Instagram and Twitter followers to follow her daily routine, jokes about her wardrobe, and seems to take her mission much more seriously than she takes herself.

That last one – knowing who you are – is a powerful weapon for any elected official, precisely because it doesn’t apply to many politicians. A lot of them seem to be whoever their consultants tell them to be.

Certainly, there are no guarantees in the arena. A lot of unfortunate things can happen to derail an otherwise promising career in public service.

But Ocasio-Cortez got into this game the hard way. No one greased the wheels or handed her a darned thing. She came to play. And ask around. Underestimating her tends to be a costly mistake.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com.