|House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)|
There are quite a few thoughts I had after the race, but this isn't a list article because I'm going to focus on one the internet had. However, I want to get them out there to start off this article. First, it's worth noting that these special elections were on Republican territory-Trump didn't, say, appoint Erik Paulsen to a particular office, thus giving the Democrats a chance at a seat they would be favored for in this environment. The Democrats still dramatically out-performed Hillary Clinton in all but Georgia, suggesting that there are voters willing to send a Democratic Congress to Trump, and also making perhaps more marginal rural seats in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin a lot more palatable for recruitment. And while this can't be encouraging for fundraising or getting candidates, it's not going to stop things for the Democrats; in the past 24 hours, For example, Democrats landed a very solid candidate in Nebraska's 2nd district, one of the more marginal seats in the country, and it appears likely that they now have a Senate challenger in Nevada. This was bad for the Democrats from a morale perspective and perhaps even a policy one (losing both Georgia and South Carolina may well have stopped Trumpcare, proving that you should always vote), but it wasn't the death knell some made it out to be.
But immediately after the race a postmortem idea set in that it was Nancy Pelosi who cost the Democrats the special election in Georgia. Indeed, Pelosi, despite being the minority leader, was used in more attack ads in the district than Trump (a strategy that shows how toothless Ben Lujan is at DCCC, but that's a thought for another day), and they clearly worked. While some could make the argument that the increased focus on the seat saved Handel, or that the recent Steve Scalise shooting, being framed by noteworthy Republicans as a violent liberal attack on conservatives, helped her out, Pelosi was not a help for Ossoff, which begged the question: should she be forced to leave her post as leader?
These sorts of conversations always make me roll my eyes, in part, admittedly, because I like Nancy Pelosi a lot, and you only have to look at the tenures of John Boehner and Paul Ryan to see why. Boehner and Ryan consistently missed (or miss) their goals in office, are railroaded by their caucus, and are constantly having to go to the Democrats to make concessions. Pelosi, on the other hand, during her four years as Speaker, was the Terminator on bills. One could argue this was to her downfall (cap and trade, anyone?), but by-and-large the California Democrat counts votes and gets where she needs to go better than anyone in Washington. She's arguably the most powerful minority leader in the House in a generation, and she raises money like no one else.
Also, it's worth noting that there is no obvious contender for the Democratic leader right now. The next two men in the leadership ladder are one year older and one year younger than Pelosi, respectively. I can list people like Terri Sewell, Krysten Sinema, Joaquin Castro, and Linda Sanchez who could be superstars at some point, but they don't appear ready now nor are they as obvious of successors as Chris van Hollen or Xavier Becerra, both of whom got tired of waiting to be Speaker and took a different office. Tim Ryan ran this past fall, but someone as moderate as him, particularly on abortion rights, could be a disaster for a party that has a strong contingent of Bernie Sanders supporters to deal with. The Democrats could go with someone famous or beloved in the caucus the way the Republicans did with Paul Ryan, but Elijah Cummings and Adam Schiff don't really have the same cache as Ryan, and arguably the only person who does (John Lewis) is the same age as Pelosi, hardly the face of a new generation.
Of course, if Pelosi is truly and uniquely toxic, that shouldn't matter; the Democrats have people who are competent, and certainly House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer in particular could lead the caucus until the Midterms. But that's assuming a few things here, and here's where this argument always bugs me. Sure, Pelosi is attacked repeatedly on the road, but whose to say that Hoyer or Clyburn or Sewell won't be as well?
After all, the Republicans have done an outstanding job of turning pretty much any Democratic luminary into a swear word; Pelosi is not alone in this regard. The Clintons, Al Gore, John Kerry, Harry Reid, Elizabeth Warren-hell, Trump went after John Lewis, a Civil Rights icon, endlessly in the past year. If anyone really believes they can't turn Steny Hoyer, a career politician with patrician roots (he's a descendant to a signer of the Declaration of Independence), I've got some land to sell you near Chambers Street. Same could be said for Tim Ryan (abortion flip-flopper, constantly being attacked by the left) or Elijah Cummings (I think we all saw what the GOP did to a black man in power) or really anyone on that list above, because the leaders of the Democratic Party are now constantly being attacked by the Republicans. Let's be clear-the opposite does happen as well, though I'd argue to not quite the same level of personal detail (save perhaps for the attacks on Donald Trump's and Mitch McConnell's physical appearances), but it's a fact of life that the leader of the party is going to be fodder for attacks. Pelosi, though, because we know what they are going to be (San Fran Nan, generally sexist attacks on her appearance, etc), may be easier fodder to attack, but if the right can go after a pro-life Mormon like Harry Reid, no one is really going to be safe in this regard.
So, honestly, I don't really see removing Pelosi because she's being attacked as a solid argument here. I'm also uncomfortable because of why she's being attacked as to being a reason for her being removed from office. After all, the fact that she's a woman and from San Francisco seems to be a lot of the bogeyman situations, and while I'm willing to occasionally concede that certain political positions make you unfit to hold a Democratic position of leadership (or that you have to be practical on policy), saying that someone shouldn't be our leader based on their gender or their geographic location is unacceptable to me. I don't want to be in a party that won't let a progressive woman lead it-if that becomes the rallying cry, count me out as a donor. That seems to be where most people focus this argument (even if they're petrified to say it out loud), and it makes me, someone who admires Pelosi immensely, very uncomfortable. I have stood by this principle with people I liked far less than Pelosi (I backed Debbie Wasserman Schulz in her primary last year in part because it felt like she was being unfairly maligned because of her gender rather than her incompetence at the DNC, and you don't have to search long on this blog to see I'm not a fan of DWS). Going after Pelosi in this way and saying she can't be a leader because she can be attacked for being from California and being a woman is something I find repugnant.
That being said, there is an argument for Pelosi leaving office, but few people are going with this tactic, and in this way I'd say I might agree at this point. Nancy Pelosi lost her majority in 2010, and has failed to regain it since. Yes, you can point to gerrymandering or the historically bad midterms of an incumbent president, but being 24 seats shy is pretty paltry for a track record after four attempt at the majority. Gerrymandering doesn't explain why Democrats don't hold the seats of, say, Mike Coffman or David Valadao. Pelosi has now lost four midtern cycles in a row, and quite frankly that's probably enough to say it's time to go. While I think she's a stupendous leader and honestly no one else in the chain of command seems like they would be better, it has to be said that Pelosi has not sunk the basket where it's most important, and her choices to head the DCCC have not been successful. The Democrats should have more seats than they currently have, and if that's the way the caucus wants to head on this, I'd be amenable and willing to try out Hoyer for a term. But don't give me this crap that "she's dead weight" for Democratic candidates in an era where Trump has a mid-30's approval rating, because it's sexist bullshit. And don't give me this crap that the Democrats can't win because she'd be speaker, because I have a story about a man named Jeremy Corbyn to tell you then. The Democrats botched this race up, and have learned a thing or two about what Trump voters will convert and which ones won't. It's certainly in part Nancy Pelosi's fault that Jon Ossoff isn't taking the oath of office, but she's not alone there, and throwing her out simply because she's the focus of attack ads is foolish.