Speaker Nancy Pelosi is the gift that keeps on giving. With her announcement that she intends to stay on as the Democratic Party’s top leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, she guarantees that the public will continue to have an unfavorable image of Washington Democrats.
Word that Pelosi was going to stay on as Democratic House leader was announced as I attended a conservative post-election luncheon analysis in Washington at the National Press Club. There were a lot of smiles in the room.
Further, the separate report last week that hard-left Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) is likely to challenge “moderate” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) for the number two House spot means that the party’s top leadership will continue to move exactly in the opposite direction of the American electorate.
Pelosi’s continued leadership also means that President Obama will have to deal with a strong left-wing counterweight from the liberal House caucus, and will have to deal with them if he considers doing a Clinton waltz towards the center. This is all good news for Republicans, and represents more potential self-inflicted wounds by Democrats. One of the worst things that could have happened to Republicans was if Pelosi stepped aside and faded out of the news. She is a lightning rod, representing all that is wrong about Washington and its culture.
The reason Pelosi and Clyburn can remain without serious opposition is because the center of gravity within the House Democrats has moved to the left, as the nation has moved to the right. Many Blue Dog “moderates” lost last Tuesday night. The surviving Democrats are left liberals who won in safe liberal congressional districts, seemingly living in a worry-free bubble, oblivious to the anger expressed all year long by middle-class working Americans.
The interesting question: what will the president do? He quickly fled the United States after the election for an extravagant ten-day tour of India and Asia. This is not too unusual — many presidents faced with unpopularity at home have found refuge in trips abroad. I remember Richard Nixon’s trip before mobs of enthusiastic Egyptians in Cairo about two months before he resigned his presidency.
Panelists at the post-election luncheon last week wondered aloud if the president might take the time overseas to reflect on the new post-election environment. Did he truly want to work with Republicans, or would he continue to run against them? A Pelosi-Clyburn leadership duo certainly would push for the latter.
For Pelosi, stern leadership style was only matched by her apparent public denial that her party was rapidly losing popular support for her agenda. People in this town remember her preposterous comment “we won last night” after Democrats lost the governorships in New Jersey and Virginia.
The possible ascendancy of Rep. Clyburn to the number two slot would be a clear signal that House Democrats are doubling down. Clyburn is an outspoken member of the Congressional Black Caucus. When he became whip with Pelosi, he refused to accept the gavel from outgoing Republican (and white) Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO). He decided instead to accept the gavel from a black legislator, Rep. William Gray, who was House whip in 1989. It was not a good moment for post-racial politics. It also was Clyburn who charged last March that tea party demonstrators hurled ugly racial epithets towards Democratic black House members during the final vote on the health care bill. Clyburn said the event “was absolutely shocking to me,” although video of the incident revealed no evidence of racist behavior.
For Republicans, the Pelosi decision may yet be another free ride. For Democrats, they may rue the day when Nancy Pelosi decided to remain in the limelight.