As an aged anarchist at heart (the anti-hierarchy kind, not the throw-bottles-through-storefront-windows kind), I understand the revolt against the assumption that Nancy Pelosi will once again assume the role of speaker of the House.
It’s not good for Pelosi and her septuagenarian leadership team of Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, or any team for that matter, to run a small-d democratic party for nearly two decades. You need new blood, new points of view, different ways to fight ever-changing battles, generational and racial and ethnic and gender diversity, a pathway for new leaders, and mostly, you need to face up to the danger of investing too much power for too long in any one person or group.
That said, it’s hard for me to think of anything more politically misguided than for the Democratic centrist rebels in the House (with our own Ed Perlmutter among its leaders) to try to kick Pelosi out now.
In 2016, when Perlmutter did nominate Tim Ryan to run against Pelosi, that might have been a good time to change leadership — a new team, though in the minority, to go up against a new president.
Maybe 2020 will be a good time — when a Democrat could reclaim the presidency and maybe even restore our democracy.
Now is a precarious time, an almost certainly counterproductive time, a time far too important to risk the chance of failure or to toss in someone who needs to learn/grow on the job.
In his winning campaign against Mike Coffman, Jason Crow promised to vote for someone other than Pelosi as speaker. That’s what you do when you’re running against a popular incumbent and Republicans are spending millions in your district and across the country — as they have for years — caricaturing Pelosi as a radical and extreme San Francisco liberal.
But why Perlmutter is leading this fight is beyond me. In a statement, he said, “I am grateful for Nancy Pelosi’s leadership and many contributions to our caucus but I have advocated for a change in leadership since 2016 because I think it’s time for a new perspective and someone who represents the change Americans just voted for across the country.”
And yet, he doesn’t have a candidate to back. He’s not running himself. What he is doing, in my view, is completely missing the point. (I talked to his spokeswoman the other day, but Perlmutter was, as they say, unavailable.)
Democrats kept telling us, as politicians tend to do, that this was the most important midterm election in our lifetimes. Donald Trump, in typically Trumpian fashion, said no one had even thought about midterm elections until Trump was the focus of one because, of course, it has to be about him. But I agree with the notion that this election was unusually important and that if Democrats had failed to win back the House, it could have foretold a disaster for the nation.
Given that and given that hardly any Democrats deny that Pelosi has been an effective leader and, in her time as speaker, a historic figure, I’m puzzled, at minimum, about the timing of the rebellion.
The worst reason — the absolute worst reason — to dump Pelosi is that Republicans don’t like her. I mean, the idea that Pelosi is uniquely an albatross for Democratic candidates is absurd. Yes, her approval ratings are brutally low (29 percent in a Gallup poll last month), but better than Mitch McConnell’s (24 percent). If it weren’t Pelosi being demonized, it would be someone else. Anyone else. Demonizing Democrats, particularly Democratic women, is what Republicans have long done and what Trump specializes in. Clinton, Pelosi, Waters, Warren, whoever. Besides which, in 2020 the election will not be about the House speaker, no matter who it is. It will be about Trump vs. the Democratic nominee. Pocahontas, Crooked Cory, Crazy Bernie, Sleepy Joe and on and on and on.
And then there’s this: The rebellious House Dems have yet to identify anyone who could do a better job taking on Trump. Rep. Marcia Fudge says she is considering a run. She could be a great speaker; she could be a terrible speaker. I have no idea, and I assume Jason Crow has no idea either. Newly elected Joe Neguse, when asked about Pelosi, wisely noted that he had just arrived in Washington. Diana DeGette, meanwhile, is running against Clyburn for majority whip, a race in which she is a considered a long shot.
For context, Democrats should look at the difference between Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the ineffectual Senate minority leader, in dealing with Trump. Pelosi has the brains, the experience and the guts not only to counter Trump but also to take on the Machiavellian McConnell in the Senate. As David Axelrod noted the other day in praising Pelosi’s political ability, Pelosi played the key role in rescuing Obamacare when Democrats lost the 60th vote in the Senate.
The coming session will be among the trickiest Democrats have ever faced. There’s the impeachment question, of course, which is a terrible idea unless Bob Mueller’s investigation or a House committee delivers a bombshell that convinces a significant majority of people — those who voted for him and against him — that Trump must go now. Pelosi not only knows the difference, she knows the politics. House Democrats will have to navigate that place between being McConnell-like obstructionists and finding places to compromise (no wall, though; whatever else, no wall) if Trump and/or McConnell are ready.
If I were one of the House rebels, I’d try to work a deal with Pelosi, who doesn’t yet have the votes even if she claims she does. She needs a majority of the House, which means she can lose very few Democrats, to win the job. I’d try to convince Pelosi to dump Hoyer and Clyburn and make sure that Pelosi agrees her time as leader is coming to an end. Meanwhile, elect leaders to work with Pelosi who are reflective of the new class of representatives and those who elected them — as Fudge says, more black, more brown, more youthful, more female — and would be ready themselves to succeed Pelosi.
It may be hardball politics, but that’s the way Pelosi has always played it. Which is why Democrats can’t afford to lose her now.