On Tuesday night, a 30-year-old Democrat with no electoral experience narrowly lost a special election in a deep red congressional district that he doesn’t live in.
Therefore, a number of Democrats and pundits have concluded that Nancy Pelosi should no longer be House minority leader.
“I think you’d have to be an idiot to think we could win the House with Pelosi at the top,” Texas congressman Filemon Vela told Politico. “Nancy Pelosi is not the only reason that Ossoff lost. But she certainly is one of the reasons.”
The reasoning here appears to be: If Nancy Pelosi weren’t in the party’s leadership, then it would have been impossible for Republicans to remind Trump-averse conservatives in the Atlanta exurbs that Jon Ossoff was a Democrat — and that liberals vote for Democrats.
It’s true that conservative groups spent a lot of money on ads tying Ossoff to Pelosi and her “San Francisco values.” And there’s no question that this culture-war theme did a lot of work for Karen Handel’s campaign: The Republican nominee refused to take a position on her party’s deeply unpopular health-care bill — while her jobs message included firm opposition to the concept that full-time workers should be paid enough money to remain alive. Handel offered her constituents little beyond an opportunity to express their disgust for Godless liberals. And this proved to be more than sufficient.
But it just doesn’t follow that red America’s cultural resentments would lose their political potency the moment Pelosi ceded the throne. Yes, ads linked Ossoff to the minority leader — they also linked him to Kathy Griffin, black-block anarchists, and the guy that shot Steve Scalise.
The Democrats are the party of liberals. Republicans will never have a hard time bringing this up in places where its inconveniant for Team Blue’s candidates. Nor will the party that turned a centrist technocrat into a sharia-socialist have trouble demonizing Pelosi’s successor.
Happily, American public opinion is far more liberal than it is conservative. And there are more Democrats in the United States than there are Republicans. The problem is that the former just aren’t that into voting. And replacing Pelosi with the last surviving blue dog Democrat would only make that problem worse.
The Democratic Party should try to convert some Republican-leaning voters — but the ones whose amygdalae flare up when they think about a liberal woman from San Francisco holding a position of power are not among them. And it’s a little insane to think otherwise. Virtually every non-Democrat who is familiar with the words Nancy Pelosi is a member of the Republican base — imagine the GOP deciding in 2016 that its path back to power involved winning over voters who gag at the mention of John Boehner.
Now, might there be a case for replacing Pelosi, regardless of the results of last night’s election? Sure. The Democrats need to do more to cultivate their next generation of national leadership. And the party’s approval rating is roughly as high as Donald Trump’s — a rebrand couldn’t hurt. If there’s a charismatic, rising star in the House — who boasts the trust of the party’s rising left-flank, a persona that appeals to independent voters in middle America, and an apparent talent for fundraising and legislative deal-making — then by all means, Pelosi should make way for the future.
But if that future has yet to arrive, Democrats shouldn’t pretend that it has for the sake of appealing to people who hate their party’s base.