Saturday, June 24, 2017

The "Pelosi Problem" - If she could turn back time. [UPDATED]

UPDATED: 11/07/2018*
Pelosi brings down the hammer.
Mainstream media are calling it the "Pelosi Problem". Democrats have lost four out of four special elections since Donald Trump was sworn in as President.  A blue-on-blue political feeding frenzy has erupted as Democrats eat their own.  With the President rubbing salt in the woundNancy Pelosi is being blamed by some on the left.  Democratic desperation is palpable and the growing Progressive panic is not limited to the beltway political class.

When even the solid support of liberal entertainment industry icons turn on Nancy Pelosi, a political firewall has been breached. Pelosi lost Cher  ...

... and Cher may be right. Republican strategists credit invoking the specter of - Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House - as a cudgel keeping disgruntled Republicans in the fold and contributing to the GA-06 win. From CNN:
"Why the relentless focus on the Democratic congresswoman from San Francisco? It was at the heart of their strategy to turn out reliably Republican voters who might be queasy with Trump's first five months in office, but did not want to see Pelosi and national Democrats celebrate a marquee victory in their own backyard. Pelosi "consistently polls very unfavorably," said John Rogers, the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee -- the House GOP's campaign arm. "I think in this instance it had a motivating effect for our voters on the turnout front."
Exhibit A: This right wing Super-Pac ad was one of several mining the Anti-Pelosi vein that saturated GA-06. It was effective and is exactly what we can expect to see in every contested district in 2018:

The only hope for Democrats in 2018 is if many independents, moderates, and disgruntled conservatives continue to be unhappy with the current Republican administration. For Democrats to retake the majority, some of them will need to vote Democrat or at least stay home. Which brings us back to the "Pelosi Problem". A national columnist highlighted the problem. In this excerpt the pundit quotes an unnamed GOP operative counted among those unhappy with the administration:
"They spend like fools, they run up the deficits and they refuse to give a raise to the working people who are struggling... If it wasn't for Pelosi," he said, "I'd just as soon the Democrats take over [in the midterms] ...  Get some checks and balances and teach these guys a lesson."
Oh wait. With all this talk about Cher, we apparently Turned Back Time ...

That last quote is from a David Broder column in July of 2006. We were six years into the One Party Republican Rule Unified Government of the Bush/Cheney administration. Amid charges of corruption and overreach, there was an open revolt among many Republicans against the administration for abandoning conservative principles.

That year, I created this blog to advocate for divided government. In 2006, support for divided goverment meant supporting a Democratic wave in the midterms to give Democrats majority control and check the excesses of the Republican executive branch. We took note in this blog of the Broder warning about the "Pelosi Problem" at the time:
"If it wasn't for Pelosi..." In other words - No matter how far the Republicans have strayed from bedrock limited government conservative principles, no matter how rampant the corruption, no matter how important it is to restore checks and balance between the executive and legislative branches, the disgruntled Republican cannot get past these words: "Speaker of House - Nancy Pelosi." And if the disgruntled Republican cannot get past those words, then when the disgruntled Republican gets in the voting booth in November, the disgruntled Republican is going to vote Republican."
Sound familiar? But in that same 2006 post, we thought we had the answer to the "Pelosi Problem":
"The reason for conservatives to vote Democrat in '06 is purely to cast a tactical vote to secure the objective of restraining spending through the documented mechanism of divided government. Conservatives should also recognize that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not so bad, when you consider the alternative - Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert."
Even though the full extent of Dennis Hastert's corruption and depravity had yet to be exposed, there was enough smoke - even then - for voters to make a clear distinction about who was worse. Hastert was worse.  Comparative political demonology only works if you don't have the worst demon in the race.

Republicans demonizing Pelosi failed in 2006. Democrats picked up 31 seats, flipped the House and installed Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. The government was divided again, and partisan balance restored.

That was then. This is now. 

They say history does not repeat, but it sometimes rhymes. In 2018, like 2006, we have a One Party Republican Rule Unified Government. In 2018, like 2006, we have an administration that is being accused of overreach, lies, and incompetence. In 2018, like 2006, Nancy Pelosi is being demonized by Republicans. But in 2018, unlike 2006, the Speaker of the House in the Republican Unified Government is (arguably) the most respected majority party leader in the legislative and executive branches of the government.

Paul Ryan is not worse than Nancy Pelosi. He does not poll worse than Nancy Pelosi. Paul Ryan in 2017 is not widely perceived as a corrupt partisan hack as Dennis Hastert was perceived in 2006. As a consequence, if Nancy Pelosi clings to her Minority Leadership role in the House through the 2018 election, she could very well be the reason the Democrats remain a minority party for the balance of Donald Trump's first term as President.

Look, I live in San Francisco and Nancy Pelosi is my representative in Congress. I don't much agree with her politics. However, I do respect her and admire the job she's done forging House Democrats into a disciplined political force, both as a minority and majority party. In particular, I thought she did a great job as Speaker of House in the divided government of the last two years of the Bush administration. As I said in 2007:
"Anyone who can piss off the activists of both parties, hold her leadership role, show real results in Congress, while continuing to fight the good fight on Iraq is doing something right. Leadership is not a popularity contest. Nancy Pelosi is providing real leadership for the loyal opposition in a divided government that accurately reflects a divided country."
And again, with a retrospective in 2015:
"In 2006, Nancy Pelosi entered Stage Left as the Speaker of  the House, complete with a new Democratic majority in the legislature and the loss of Republican One Party Rule. She took the gavel promising to "drain the swamp" and usher in a new era of "partisan civlility" in Washington D.C.  From the Dividist's perspective she did, to a large degree, fulfill those promises during the divided government of the last two years of George W. Bush's administration. It was only after Democrats reclaimed One Party Rule in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama that Nancy Pelosi reasserted her partisan colors. She helped remind American voters yet again why One Party Rule is always a really bad idea."
Now, as Minority Leader, she is still doing a great job for the Democrats. It is entirely possible that - absent her leadership - the Democratic minority in the House would descend into squabbling factions and become a completely ineffective opposition to the Trump Administration One Party Republican Rule. 

She should remain Minority Leader of the Democratic Party in the House of Representative throughout the balance of her term in 2018. That said - if she wants Democrats to have any chance of taking back majority control of the House in 2018, she should also - at a time of her choosing - in the name of partisan political expediency - announce that she will not serve as Speaker of the House if the Democrats gain majority control.

Your call Nancy. Choose Wisely.


UPDATE: 27-Oct-2018

A few things have changed since since writing this post. First, Paul Ryan announced he was retiring and would not run for re-election to the House of Representatives. This, of course, means that the Speakership is up for grabs in 2019, assuming that the Republicans can hold the majority. As noted in the post, Paul Ryan tended to be viewed favorably by centrists, moderates, and independents and a better alternative for Speaker than the always polarizing Nancy Pelosi.  Not so with potential Republican alternatives like Jim Jordan, who is likely to be the Trump favorite. Nancy Pelosi looks good by comparison. Minimally, it's now a polarized partisan wash.

As such, the Dividist is quite a bit more sanguine about Nancy Pelosi stubbornly clinging to power. Not that she gives a rat's ass about what the Dividist thinks.

The more we look, the more 2018 is looking like 2006. President Trump's chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow had some thoughts about divided government and the prospects for a Pelosi Speakership in 2006, and it sounds like a positive replay of 2018:

"What about cap gains, what about dividends, what about trade protectionism, what about health care spending, what about overall spending? If I believe stocks are efficient markets... right now they are not voting against the Democratic House  ... Bad Republican polls - great looking stock market - in all seriousness, in all sincerity, let's be honest and objective about this... Is this the Nancy Pelosi divided government bull market?" - Larry Kudlow
The Dividist will never agree with most of Nancy Pelosi's politics, but he can't help but grudgingly admire her tenacious and effective political leadership - as profiled by Mark Barabak in the LA Times:
"Pelosi doesn’t care about the invective hurled her way, in whatever language. She doesn’t care that her face has appeared, menacing and twisted, in thousands of Republican attack ads. She doesn’t care that life is a full-time residency in travel hell — a blur of meals on the run, flight delays, a different hotel each night.  
She cares about one thing, distilled in the advice Pelosi gives Democrats with any qualms about distancing themselves for political sake from the national party or its lightning-rod leader. “Do whatever you have to do,” she tells them. “Just win, baby.” 
No one, apart from President Trump, may be more responsible if Democrats seize control of the House on Nov. 6, or fall short, than the 16-term representative from San Francisco, who has raised nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars since she was elected her party’s leader in the chamber in 2002."
Nancy Pelosi is the Dividist's representative here in San Francisco. The Dividist voted for her in 2006 and will be voting for her again in 2018 for exactly the same reasons: To divide the government; provide real oversight of the executive branch; and a check on an Imperial Presidency.


*UPDATE II: 7-Nov-2018

The Democrats did indeed decisively take the House majority emphatically restoring divided government. As Reason's Eric Boehm put it "Three Cheers for the Return of Divided Government"
"The American people appear to have decided that gridlock is preferable to allowing Trump to run rampant or handing both chambers to the Democrats. Neither major party can claim to have a mandate in Washington, D.C., right now. That sounds just fine."

The Dividist started this post worrying that the prospect of the always polarizing Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House might put off enough voters to deny Democrats the House majority. Then Paul Ryan stepped in with a big assist by graciously announcing his retirement, opening the door for Republican clown Jim Jordan to declare himself a candidate to replace him.  This immediately made Ms. Pelosi the least worst choice for Speaker of the House and set the stage for Ms. Pelosi to party like it's 2006.

My concern was always about whether the prospect of Pelosi as Speaker would negatively affect the elections, never about her competence and effectiveness in the role. With House in hand, Democrats will need her steady hand, experience, negotiation skills, political savvy and ability to herd those prog cats. Democrats would be foolish to consider anyone else.

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