We recently discussed how Democrats seeking the removal of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi were called “sexist” for merely seeking change after the disastrous 2016 election. Democratic leaders engineered the primary selection of Hillary Clinton despite polls showing that voters did not want an establishment figure and had deep seated misgivings about Clinton’s honestly and integrity. One of those leaders who has been most criticized over the years has been Nancy Pelosi. However, democratic members overwhelmingly elected Pelosi again as minority leader in what was seen as a slap in the face of those who want to see serious change in the party. Within a couple days of her reelection, Pelosi went on the air to declare that everyone is wrong and people really do not want a new direction. They want the same leadership like her to pursue the very same course that has led to historic losses under her leadership in the House. It was the same dismissive logic applied by the Democratic National Committee and Democratic leadership (including Pelosi) in engineering the nomination of Hillary Clinton, the ultimate establishment figure when polls showed an overriding preference for an outsider and record low favorability numbers for Clinton (particularly on issues of honesty). The question is whether the obvious anger inside and outside the party will galvanize into continued opposition. The establishment seems to be betting on people forgetting about serious reforms or wanting other options than the current duopoly of power held by the Republicans and Democrats. Retaining the very same leadership in both parties may be just what reformers had hoped: a clear signal that any changes in Washington will require the continuation of the popular movement seen in the last election.
Pelosi appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday and was asked: “What do you tell Democrats who want a new direction and then, go to you, what are you going to do differently?” For those who fear that the Democratic establishment is protecting its own power rather than the party or the public, the answer was chilling:
PELOSI: “Well, I don’t think people want a new direction. Our values unify us and our values are about supporting America’s working families. That’s one that everyone is in agreement on. What we want is a better connection of our message to working families in our country, and that clearly in the election showed that that message wasn’t coming through. But we are united in terms of the security of our country, which is our first responsibility. To be smart and strong and not reckless in how we protect the American people, strong in how we protect our economy.”
After losing what was viewed as highly promising election for the Democrats (in part due to the selection of a candidate that Pelosi pushed), the answer seems to confirm that the party remains the domain of the party elite and not the voters.
Just to recap: the Democrats lost 63 seats in 2010 and, while the election of President Obama picked up seats, they were defeated again in 2014. She was retained despite polls that showed her as the least popular figure among the Democratic leadership. Many believe that Pelosi, 76, and other leaders are both unpopular and associated too closely with the ruling establishment in Washington. Some members have grumbled that Pelosi seemed clueless in blaming Comey, millennials and others after predicting on election night an easy win for Clinton, a Democratic takeover of the Senate, and a significant gain of seats in the house. Pelosi and the other top Democratic leaders will be in their 80s when the Democrats have another serious chance at retaking the House. (Notably, Joe Biden suggested today that he also will be back and is seriously considering a run for the presidency in 2020 when he will be 78 years old).
Saying that the election was simply not educating voters or getting their message through is basically saying that voters are misinformed about the wisdom of the Democratic leadership. The fact is that Hillary Clinton spent a record amount on the campaign and twice the amount per vote spent by Trump. The Democrats had the bigger campaign, the greater campaign coffers, and the overwhelming support of the media. Yet, Pelosi says the problem is that voters did not understand their message rather than the message itself (or the messengers).
Pelosi also dismissed widespread criticism of the Democratic leadership over the last two decades in pursuing the same unsuccessful course and messages. Here is the exchange:
DICKERSON: “Here’s my question, though, Democrats since 2008, the numbers are ghastly for Democrats. Democrats are down 10 percent, in the House down 19.3 percent and in governors 35 percent. The Democrats are getting clobbered at every level over multiple elections. That seems like a real crisis for the party?”
PELOSI: “You’re forgetting that we went up so high in 2006 and 2008, and let me just put that in perspective. When President Clinton was elected, Republicans came in big in the next election. When President Bush was president, we came in big in the next election. When President Obama became president, the Republicans came in big in the next election.”
That spin ignores that the Democrats have, over that period, lost a massive number of seats and made them little more than a passing irritant for the GOP in the House. For many, the interview highlights why Pelosi has been so unpopular in polls for over a decade. The leadership is refusing to accept that they are part of the problem or that there is really widespread discontent after the ultimate outsider just secured a historic upset over perhaps the greatest establishment figure in the Democratic party. Washington however views elections differently than the public. Leadership positions protect fixed interests for members who want committee positions, campaign funds, and other benefits. Even a losing leadership can supply those benefits if you are inside the tent. So one has to use a translator in such interviews. What Pelosi really meant is that “I don’t think that establishment wants a new direction” and she is clearly right.