01 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez LEAD IMAGE
CNN  — 

Toward the end of Thursday’s presidential debate, the conversation turned to the environment – and the so-called “Green New Deal” proposed by liberals in Congress led by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Which is when President Donald Trump said this of AOC:

“I mean, she’s got a good line of stuff, but she knows nothing about the climate.”

Which is weird, right? No, not the insult about how Ocasio-Cortez knows nothing about the climate – that is standard-issue Trump bullying and dismissiveness. The “she’s got a good line of stuff,” uh, line.

What the heck is Trump talking about? That, of course, is also a somewhat fraught question because a) Trump is not terribly articulate and b) he just says stuff, like, a lot of the time.

But I do think that, given what we know about Trump and what we know about his past statements about Ocasio-Cortez, we can make a pretty educated guess about what “she’s got a good line of stuff” actually means.

Let’s start here: Trump describes himself as a real-estate guy but, in truth, he is effectively a brand and marketing guy. As The New York Times’ David Leonhardt wrote of Trump’s tax returns – copies of which his organization obtained:

“The Times calculates that between 2004 and 2018, Mr. Trump made a combined $427.4 million from selling his image — an image of unapologetic wealth through shrewd business management. The marketing of this image has been a huge success, even if the underlying management of many of the operating Trump companies has not been.”

Like Trump or hate him, you have to acknowledge he understands how to build an aspirational brand – whether in the business world (his hotels and resorts are, for many people, what being rich and comfortable looks like) or in politics (he made himself a giant success – and if you vote for him, he can make our country rich too!).

So I think what Trump sees in AOC is someone who, well, gets it. He may not like her or her policies – he made that much clear on Thursday night – but he respects what Ocasio-Cortez has done to build a brand in less than two years in Congress.

Objectively, what she has done is incredible. Since ousting Rep. Joe Crowley in a stunning June 2018 primary upset, the now 31-year-old congresswoman has, rapidly, become one of the best-known Democrats in the country. (AOC is, technically speaking, a democratic socialist, but she caucuses with Democrats in the House.)

She has the largest Twitter following of any House member (9.3 million followers). She has 7.2 million Instagram followers. On Tuesday night, Ocasio-Cortez played a video game called “Among Us” on Twitch, a live-stream platform used by gamers. More than 400,000 people signed on to watch, making it one of the 20 most-watched streams in Twitch history, according to The Verge.

These are the sort of things Trump notices. He is a person who considers himself a star – and he is drawn to other stars. In fact, Trump has repeatedly promoted Ocasio-Cortez’s chances if she decides to take on Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer in a 2022 primary

“Because of how badly they did with the Impeachment Hoax, AOC will primary Cryin’ Chuck Schumer, and win,” the President tweeted in February. In a letter Trump sent to Schumer in April, he wrote: “No wonder AOC and others are thinking about running against you in the primary. If they did, they would likely win.”

Given all of that, the best way – I think – to understand Trump’s comment that AOC has a “good line of stuff” is that he was trying to pay her a sort of compliment about the brand she has built. It was, for Trump, a “game recognize game” moment – not that he would know what that means but, well, you get the idea.