Friday, November 18, 2016

Ranting On...Tim Ryan

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)
The Democratic Party, as we've chronicled quite a bit over the past week, is in a state of disarray.  Chaos, if you will.  For the past eight years, even as our mountainous majorities in the House, Senate, Governor's mansions, and state legislatures fell away, we had the glowing beacon of Barack Obama, a safe space to cling toward even in a world where people like Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton had reached toward the highest-reaches of government.  But now, that's gone-in less than sixty days, Donald Trump will become the 45th president, with a Supreme Court, Senate, House, and massive advantage in state legislatures not seen for the GOP in nearly a century.  And amid that chaos, a Democratic Civil War is brewing, though it's threatening to burst as we saw yesterday when Rep. Tim Ryan decided to challenge Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader.

I love Pelosi, but it has to be said-this is probably a long time coming.  Pelosi has not faced a significant challenge to her perch since 2010, when Rep. Heath Shuler made a play for the position but ultimately lost when Pelosi surprisingly bucked tradition, becoming the first incumbent speaker to stay on after losing power since Sam Rayburn.  This is a problem, considering the Democrats have lost the past four straight cycles in the House.  You can blame part of that on gerrymandering, but the reality is that, particularly in 2014 and 2016, the amount of seats that they lost seats that shouldn't have been on the table.  Watching, say, MN-2 and FL-26 slip away this cycle is as close to unforgivable as you can get, and it's correct to state that the Democrats need a change in leadership.

After all, Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and Jim Clyburn have been the 1-2-3 in the House since the 2006 Midterms, and ten years is long enough, particularly considering their abysmal track record.  All of them present a face of the House that the party wants to avoid.  I don't want to get into ageism too badly, but for a party that struggled to turnout Millennials in the past election, having three Democratic leaders all over 75 is not the youthful, future-oriented direction we should be projecting.  These three have had their chances-they lost the House four times in a row now, barely gaining seats in the meantime, and in particular watching a number of winnable House seats in 2016 fall by the wayside.  That's unacceptable, and it is time for a change.

But my problem here is that Tim Ryan is not the one to do it, and in particular when it comes to taking on Pelosi, we have a problem.  Ryan's positions on a few Democratic issues, but particularly abortion and gun control, are very at odds with Democratic voters and donors.  While he's moderated his tone on some of these issues, he's also in a position where he can't go as far left as most Democrats in his caucus would want him to do, and his district puts him at risk of losing reelection if he stops moderating his tone.  He is a rising star in the party, but one that has positioned himself for a statewide run in a slight-red state, not as someone who would grow through the ranks of the House.  He should be our nominee for governor, not House Minority Leader.  He is not one of the rising stars like Xavier Becerra, Marcia Fudge, or Joe Kennedy III that has a safe seat to fall back upon.  After all, we all remember what happened to Tom Foley and Tom Daschle when their backers thought they'd abandoned their constituents in favor of running the Capitol.

This might be okay if Obama was still in power, but this position is going to be one of the last defenses for the Democrats going forward, and it's going to require a much firmer backbone than Ryan's going to be able to provide.  You can criticize Pelosi for a lot of things (namely that she never won back the gavel), but you can't go after her for not being a fierce opponent when she's in the minority.  Ryan has never exhibited that sort of stamina-it says something that this is his first foray into the leadership, and he isn't going for someone further down the food chain like Hoyer or Clyburn.  In some ways it feels like he's doing this to parlay it into a run for governor-"I'm the moderate Democratic alternative"-than to actually have a conversation the Democrats desperately need.

Because while I have a lot of respect for Pelosi, her team needs to go.  My proposal, if I had a magic wand, would be to keep her on for two more years-she's got the experience to lead in Washington, she'll keep Schumer, all too happy to give in on principles in order to be liked, inline in terms of progressive politics, and she's a massive fundraiser at a time when Democrats are going to be strapped for cash (we'll be badly outspent in 2018 and 2020 without Obama or the Clintons to provide guidance).  However, I'd promote two new people in place of Hoyer/Clyburn so we have a future for the party and not just three people born during World War II.  While Ryan would be fine here, I'd prefer Becerra, Fudge, or Kennedy, as they come with less policy baggage and have proven themselves in limited leadership roles in the past.  If Pelosi is able to win back the House in 2018, make her Speaker once more until she loses it again or retires, and if not, she needs to go as well.

But not Tim Ryan-he has the write message, but is the wrong messenger for it.  The Democrats need to win back voters in the profile of Ryan, but they aren't going to win them back by alienating everyone they already have-it doesn't work that way.

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