The focus on the brushfires lit by a faction of anti-Pelosi Democrats largely misses the point about Nancy Pelosi: It’s not a testament to her weakness within the caucus; it’s a testament to the California Democrat’s power.
On her watch as Speaker, House Democrats lost 60-plus seats. She is perhaps the most unpopular politician in America today. She’s a woman. She’s bad on TV. And she’s unapologetic about all of that. Yet the closest thing she had to a threat to her position after November 2’s colossal failure comes from the likes of North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler and Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur? Two members who, candidly, never really liked her anyway?
She must have been shaking in her Ferragamos.
The only member who stood a fighting chance to defeat her is Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who made it clear that that would never happen as soon as she decided to stay in leadership.
Defeated Florida Democratic Rep. Allen Boyd has gotten his fair share of attention this week for blaming Pelosi for losing his race for him. “You’re the main reason we [moderates] lost,” Boyd told the Speaker in a closed-door meeting Tuesday—a provocative but lame excuse considering the unmatched level of resources Pelosi has plied her party with since 2002: $231 million for House Democrats, nearly $65 million in 2010 alone. Pelosi is the main reason Democrats won a lot, too.
Sure, Kaptur’s effort to postpone leadership elections got 68 votes and Shuler won 43 votes in his symbolic run against her for minority leader, so there is without question a vein of opposition coursing through House Democrats.
But Pelosi has always had her share of opponents in the Caucus, which makes her ability to continue to run her party without any serious challenge, after a midterm election that was a colossal failure, a testament to the power she wields in the party -- whether those 43 Democrats like it or not.
“I think [the vote] strengthened her position in the Caucus,” said fellow California Democrat, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a supporter. “They brought forth their candidate, and it was very clear who is our leader.”
Pelosi clucked to reporters after Wednesday’s leadership vote that she won “because they know that I’m the person that can attract the resources, both intellectual and otherwise, to take us to victory because I have done it before.” Humility is not part of the Pelosi Playbook.
And even the most outspoken anti-Pelosi Democrats are still largely falling in line. Shuler, Utah Rep. Jim Matheson, Arkansas Rep. Mike Ross, and North Carolina Rep. Larry Kissell all said today that they would not vote for John Boehner for Speaker on the House floor, and they all offered a hearty “no” when asked if they would consider switching parties.
Now, the question over whether Pelosi’s decision to stay was the right decision for herself and the party is a separate debate. Even some of her allies concede that, perhaps, it would have been best for her to bow out so they could start a new chapter. But the fact that her ability to stay atop the party was based on her decision alone underscores the sway she still holds.
This article appears in the November 18, 2010, edition of NJ Daily.