Nancy Pelosi is the gift that keeps on giving to Republicans and seems to continue to hold her party back. After Jon Ossoff’s surprisingly large loss in GA-6 some Democrats are pointing the finger at their longtime House leader. She appeared in almost every attack ad and at the end of the day seemed to be the galvanizing factor behind Republicans falling behind Handel.
Pelosi has seen this song and dance before. After 2010 and 2014 she was blamed for the party’s losses but still managed to stay in power. Still, the fire is not just coming from old opponents like her 2015 Leadership post opponent Tim Ryan (Ohio). Kathleen Rice (New York) joined the call for her to step down, “We need a leadership change. It’s time for Nancy Pelosi to go, and the entire leadership team.”
Tim Ryan, echoing a growing sentiment in the party, “We are heading into July, and I cannot believe I am saying this, but our party still doesn’t have a clear economic message. Are you kidding me.” He did not mention Pelosi but it was hardly supportive of Leadership.
Due to her long tenure, Pelosi is the consummate tactician. She has allies across the ideological spectrum and has earned the loyalty of many senior Democrats. She also appeals to the growing Black and Hispanic Caucuses in the party giving her a lock on leadership.
Pelosi has raised money for many in the party helping ensure leadership. Like GOP counterpart Paul Ryan and John Boehner before him, she dispenses this among the party helping lock in her support. But, unlike Paul Ryan, and even less milquetoast John Boehner, she is a lightning rod for the opposition.
It’s easy to see why. Due to her long tenure she has supported actions bills and taken Congressional actions sure to fire up partisans of the opposite party. She was instrumental in opposing Bush. She passed Obamacare (twice), Cap and Trade, Dodd-Frank and called the Tea Party “astro-turf).
But, she also is not just unpopular with Republicans but also Independents. This fact is what makes so many Democrats squeamish about her continuing tenure. Few Democrats expect to win Republicans but they need Independents in purple districts across the nation.
For every Democrats publicly question her tenure there are two more in private echoing such sentiments. Consider Representative Seth Moulton (MA), a veteran and LBGT member, saying of such things, “We need to have that discussion.” By we he means the party. Internally!
Certainly political parties turn to the leaders of the opposition as boogeymen almost always. Republicans did it way back with Tip O’Neill, Democrats with George Bush and now Democrats with Trump. But, Republicans continue to find a potent weapon in attacking Pelosi and her San Francisco roots in red and purple districts.
Handel, who won Georgia’s hard fought contest the other night, felt so confident the attacks on Pelosi were working she aired them in Spanish. The Congressional Leadership Fund, after focus groups showed attacking Pelosi and SF values worked, ran a multi-million dollar ad campaign based on San Franciscans thanking Ossoff for his campaign.
Nothing seems to drive the GOP base to unify more than Pelosi. But, for a party out of power, her horrible numbers among Independents are even more worrying. Anecdotal it may be, but a week before the election polls showed Ossoff winning a majority of Independents and 13 percent of Republicans. The final Trafalgar poll of the race showing Handel up by two points and she was splitting Independents and winning 96 percent of Republicans. Coincidence this happened right after CLC went up with their major ad buy featuring Pelosi?
This was desperately necessary. The Ossoff campaign was vastly outspending Handel on the airwaves, had more campaign staff and had far more focus group centered messages than Handel.
It is unlikely Pelosi is going anywhere. The same attributes that make her a liability for the party electorally also make her a lock for leadership as long as she wants it. The genteel, old white liberal guard sitting in suburban Seattle, Portland, California and the like have no reason to worry electorally. Likewise, the Black and Hispanic Caucus’s members sit only in competitive districts in wave elections (they usually still win).
This creates two problems for the party. The first is creating a leadership cap. It is notable that so many rising stars in the party’s Congressional ranks have left. Young Democrats have either run for Governor, Senator or in the case of Xavier Bercerra, moved over to state office. There is minimal grooming of future talent for leadership.
This in turn leads to generational divides along electoral and policy lines. Democrats might have supported Clinton’s policies but few actually liked her personally. Contrast that with an older, whiter GOP base that had more in common with Trump than young and diverse Democrats had with a 70 year old white women.
Electorally, the problem is obvious. Pelosi is simply toxic to her party in nationalized contests for federal office. Democrats took great care in Kansas, Montana and South Carolina to avoid those races being nationalized party for this reason. But, Georgia was inevitable and at the end of the day Pelosi was simply to enticing a target not to attack.
The worst part of GA-6 for Democrats is that Jon Ossoff did everything he could to run away from her short of saying, “I will not vote for her for leadership.” He ran as a problem solver and a centrist and still lost because he was tied to Pelosi by the simple fact of being a Democrat. How can other Democrats outrun that in suburban Texas and Florida in places that resemble Georgia-6 in if not education level but partisan leanings?
Answer, They cannot. Until Pelosi leaves. She won’t. And that is a major problem for her party and keeps Republicans smiling as they win.