Nancy Pelosi and the spoils of victory

Armstrong Williams | 11/29/2018, 12:56 p.m.

Congress is officially in a “lame duck” time frame before the current members who lost are shown the exits, and a new crop is sworn in to begin legislating in 2019. These weeks are also the time in which both parties caucus to elect who will lead them in the new Congress. In the past, the votes have been largely held in secret, and were largely pro forma exercises. But for House Democrats and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, these weeks are tense times.

Serving as a leader in the House, Pelosi has ruled those in her ranks with an iron fist for decades. She has rewarded them as well—raising hundreds of millions for members in their re-election bids. She is a prolific fundraiser, and that has historically served her and her ambitions well.

But not anymore. Dozens of House Democratic contenders on the campaign trail uncharacteristically swore oaths that they would not vote to give the speaker’s gavel to Pelosi should Democrats re-take the House. For many, it was a key pillar in their campaign platforms. Pelosi, after all, resembled the worst aspects of the party—a stale agenda that was successful more for what it had blocked than for what it had championed. Pelosi didn’t help herself either—taking hard left stands and picking fights on issues in congressional districts where the Democrat might have won, but largely because they focused more on pocketbook issues such as job and wage growth. And when Pelosi made her snarky comment just days before the election that the president wasn’t going to get his border wall because that was a “man thing” for him, it only signaled to the more mainstream freshmen she was not the right one to lead.

Yet in the days after the election, we saw a major Pelosi charm offensive. She would unexpectedly (and uninvited) show up at Democrat freshmen orientations to regale newcomers of how she nostalgically remembered that time (so, so long ago) when she walked the halls of Congress as a freshman. Back before the internet and smart phones…and a party that has so struggled to find its identity and its new core base of constituencies.

Up until just before Thanksgiving, no solid candidate had stepped forward to challenge Pelosi. Even today, it’s not clear if one will emerge. Yet there are several whisper campaigns brewing that Pelosi does not have the support or the votes of her caucus to grab the gavel again.

Rank-and-file Democrats—and especially freshmen—would do well to pass over Pelosi as their leader. Quite simply, she reflects what is tired and dated about the Democrats. With Pelosi, the party is in full arrested development. Sure, she pushes a Medicare-for-all initiative that, if enacted, would add trillions to the national debt and send these newcomers home in two years quicker than snow melting in my home state of South Carolina.

It’s not just Pelosi that represents a dated regime, figuratively and literally. Her entire leadership team’s average age is well above 80—hardly a crisp, fresh troupe that’s ready to take on this administration and the challenges facing the nation.

There’s but one reason for Pelosi’s push to serve as speaker again—raw power. Majority rule reigns in the House of Representatives. So it’s not like the Democrats would fail in their agenda if she were not at the helm. Even someone not as strong as Paul Ryan by historical standards was able to push through landmark tax reform and other big victories. The same could be said for someone other than Pelosi in the chair on the dais. No, it is personal for Pelosi. Her behavior betrays her ambition. But for the good of the Democratic Party, incoming freshmen should publicly deny her the gavel.