Nancy Pelosi Is a Nonissue

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- We’re going to see a lot of this: Politico’s Elena Schneider and Heather Caygle look at the growing group of Democratic candidates who say they’ll oppose Nancy Pelosi for speaker if they win and the Democrats have a majority. We’re still several months away, and anything is possible, but I strongly suspect Pelosi is safer than it appears.

Start with the basics. As the article acknowledges, there are actually two votes for speaker: one secret vote within the party to choose its leader, then a second one on the House floor. It will be relatively easy for these candidates to keep their campaign pledges by voting against Pelosi in the party caucus. Then they can (perhaps reluctantly) support her in the partisan vote on the first day of the new Congress. 

Would that be dangerous? I doubt it. There’s a long, long time between Jan. 3, 2019, and November 2020. Moreover, Democrats up for re-election in 2020 will presumably find President Donald Trump at the top of the ballot, and it’s hard to believe that Pelosi will be a serious campaign issue with Trump around — not to mention Trump’s certain efforts to smear his opponent as a crook and a liar and whatever else he comes up with. It’s quite likely that for Democrats in tough districts, supporting Pelosi will be far less of an issue than whether they support Chris Murphy or Amy Klobuchar or whoever Democrats have nominated for president.

Of course, having voted for Pelosi will be even less of an issue in 2020 if she chooses to retire that year, when she will turn 80. Maybe she’ll try to stick around longer, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire Democratic top leadership is gone after the upcoming 116th Congress. 

Another consideration is that there’s really nothing all that unique about Pelosi. Yes, she’s very liberal. Her replacement when she retires will be, too. Perhaps someone new would take longer to demonize, but anyone who has watched more than a few minutes of Fox News knows how efficient Republican-aligned media can be at attacking people. (And it’s not as if Democratic-aligned media isn’t pretty good at that, too.) So defeat Pelosi and select another speaker in 2019, and for all anyone knows, the new speaker will be more toxic than Pelosi would have been.

Not that I’m all that convinced that Pelosi or any of the other also-unpopular other leaders are that toxic anyway. They certainly poll badly, and clearly Republican consultants believe that running against Pelosi is effective. That doesn’t mean it’s true. She certainly didn’t seem to damage Democrats in 2006 and 2008, and it seems far more likely to me that Barack Obama would have been more effective at goosing Republican turnout since then than Pelosi. For that matter, it’s not even clear to me that who or what Republicans (or Democrats) choose to demonize in their campaign rhetoric really makes much of a difference to electoral outcomes anyway.

Pelosi has been an excellent politician and was an effective speaker. While I’ve criticized her on some grounds, I’d say on balance Democrats are lucky to have her, and I suspect a lot of those who turn against her on the campaign trail will come to appreciate her if she does have another term as speaker in her future.

1. Karen Alter at the Monkey Cage on Trump, China and the WTO

3. Dara Lind at Vox on what Trump’s new action on border detentions will really do.

4. While Jonathan Chait looks at what it says about Trump’s weakness

5. Bloomberg’s Saleha Mohsin on Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump’s trade war.

6. Jared Bernstein demonstrates that on the economy, Trump has been riding the trends he inherited. True enough, although to the extent that presidents have anything to do with economic outcomes, it’s more impressive to keep good trends going. 

7. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Justin Fox on how the U.S. is a low-immigration nation

8. Rachel Becker on why the Space Force isn’t a very good idea. I’m still extremely skeptical that it’s going to happen. 

9. And Amy Erica Smith at Mischiefs of Faction on “Star Wars” and the Galactic Empire as a weak state. Yup. But what about the Republic, which I’ve argued seemed to be similar to the U.S. under the Articles of Confederation? Remember, Republic credits were worthless on some outer planets. I think the story that makes sense here is that the Republic was always a weak state, with most planets governing themselves in one form or another with little or no interference, and perhaps little or no presence, from the central government. It even makes sense, then, that a trade dispute would be a logical way for Palpatine to force a civil war; what else would the planets in a loose confederation be fighting over? So, yes, the story seems to be that once he declared his Empire, the new emperor tried to actually run the whole thing as if it was a single state, and as Smith explains, that was doomed to failure given that there probably was little or no political infrastructure to build on. 

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