This November’s election is likely the last chance Nancy Pelosi has to become the first former House speaker to regain the job in more than six decades.
She’s vowed to do it. But then as the Democrats’ minority leader, she’s vowed to do it for four straight House elections. And she has failed every time, starting with the historic 2010 drubbing by Republicans, who seized 63 seats.
The 78-year-old, who represents most of the city of San Francisco, needs to see her party pick up only 23 seats to regain the House majority and all the powerful committee chairmanships with subpoena powers.
A president’s party has lost House seats in 90 percent of the last 20 midterms. On average, the losses are 33 seats, but they’re larger when a president’s approval is below 50 percent, as is Donald Trump’s.
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However, Pelosi’s return is not as assured as it might appear, even given the widespread consensus that the Republicans will lose their grip on the House.
Yes, professional prognosticators who study the 435 seats district by district have moved more of them closer to the “D” column this summer. For months now Democrats have won the generic preference for congressional seats — but that lead has been shrinking.
And just winning a simple House majority of 218 would not reelect Pelosi as party leader. After the last Democratic defeat two years ago, Pelosi’s 15-year reign as leader was challenged by Tim Ryan, a 45-year-old Ohio representative who wanted younger party leaders.
Pelosi and her two-man leadership team — Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer and Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn — were all born before Pearl Harbor.
After Trump and his political coattails did so well across heartland Democratic strongholds, Ryan also demanded a more geographically diverse leadership.
Pelosi and her two-man leadership team — Hoyer of Maryland and Clyburn of South Carolina — are all from coastal states.
Ryan lost his challenge in 2016, but he garnered 63 caucus votes to Pelosi’s 134, which means Pelosi needs a genuine blue wave of House Democrats to overcome that kind of internal opposition.
Ominously, by a conservative estimate, at least 27 House Democratic candidates have declined to promise their leadership vote to her, so toxic the Pelosi name has become. NBC News put that number at around 50. Taking a page from the president’s media playbook, Pelosi attacked NBC for seeking to undermine her reelection bid.
Refusing to endorse Pelosi may be more of a defensive position of temporary campaign convenience because Republicans have for so long effectively tied all Democratic opponents to the so-called liberal Pelosi agenda.
Well aware of what trouble a Democratic House would mean for his agenda and political fortunes, Trump said: “Democrats like to campaign as moderates at election time. But when they get to Washington, they always vote for the radical Pelosi agenda.”
Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins of New York worried that his party’s loss in last week’s special House election in Ohio was because of a barrage of ads linking candidate Danny O’Connor to Pelosi. “People pretend that (Pelosi) isn’t a problem,” Higgins said. “But it is a problem.”
And Pelosi’s recent speaking problems — losing her train of thought and mispronouncing numerous words at the podium — only add to the sense that the party needs a change.
To counter the GOP’s strategy this cycle, Democrats are attempting to customize their political messages to individual districts. But persistent questions about a professed loyalty to Pelosi hamper that.
A new poll found that only 27 percent of Americans, and barely 51 percent of Democrats, wanted Pelosi to stay as House Democratic leader. Of course, the only votes that count are her caucus members after Nov. 6. But if the same proportion of her colleagues abandoned her this year as in 2016, she would lose.
Pelosi’s abiding internal party strength grows from her prodigious fundraising for members. But younger, incoming freshmen would owe her no loyalty for that.
The funny thing about newcomers in either party is that they have a different perspective and agenda from the traditional cobwebbed incumbents. Ask House Republicans how well the 2010 class of tea party members, now the Freedom Caucus, has fit in as party teammates.
Unable to resist joining the Pelosi fray, Trump last week mockingly tweeted:
“She is a wonderful person whose ideas & policies may be bad, but who should definitely be given a 4th chance. She is trying very hard & has every right to take down the Democrat Party if she has veered too far left!”
Given that an ongoing majority of Americans disapproves of Trump’s job performance, he should probably be careful. Just to be contrary, that majority might someday take his advice.