By: Nick Becker, Senior Contributor
A string of special congressional election losses for the Democratic Party in the spring and summer, has cast a shadow on the political future of House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.). Pelosi, whose fundraising prowess is legendary, has become used to dissension in her ranks since 2010 when a Republican wave in Congress deprived her of the Speaker’s gavel and gave a majority to the GOP that has held ever since.
Those tensions became more acute following the 2016 election, where Democrats only gained a paltry six seats in the House despite Pelosi raising a $141 million. Failure of the Democratic party to secure another congressional seat was displayed on the national stage in the June 2017 special House election for Georgia’s sixth district, where Democrat Jon Ossoff lost to his Republican challenger, even though he hauled in a record-breaking $23 million for his campaign.
In spite of those defeats, Pelosi has stubborn confidence in the virtues of her leadership. “I am a master legislator,” Pelosi boasted at news conference shortly after the Georgia special election. Certainly, Pelosi was instrumental in passing the Affordable Care Act, former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement. However, it is hard for her to use her “master legislating” skills when the Democrats are in the minority. After Pelosi lost her majority in 2010, Democrats have been deprived of any major legislative victories even though President Obama remained in the White House another six years.
Inevitably, Pelosi points to her prolific fundraising as the primary reason to keep her in power. According to the New York Times, Pelosi has raised $568 million since assuming leadership of House Democrats in 2002. Yet that fundraising barely made a dent in the GOP majority in 2016 and did not put Ossoff over the top in the Georgia special election.
In fact, her influence in House elections may have had a negative effect on Democrats. In the Georgia special election, Ossoff was excoriated by his Republican opponent, Karen Handel, for his out-of-state support. “He’s raised millions outside of Georgia from Nancy Pelosi and outsiders who just don’t share our priorities,” Handel said at a campaign event before the election.
Republican strategists in many other House races have similarly targeted Pelosi in brutal attack ads in an attempt to tie her liberal “San Francisco values” (Pelosi’s district includes parts of San Francisco) to Democrats she is trying to help win in conservative-leaning districts.
It is a testament to her courage that Pelosi has weathered Republican scapegoating for years, but if Pelosi and her proponents continually point to her multi-million dollar fundraising while ignoring her polarizing reputation, they will only play into the out-of-touch elite caricature Republicans have painted of her.
Even Pelosi allies who praise her in the press are wary of being seen with her. After defending Pelosi, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) was asked if he would campaign with Pelosi in his district. His reply: “Not at a rally.”
After a humiliating loss to Donald Trump in the presidential campaign and his disastrous administration so far, Democrats are expecting the 2018 midterms will be a path back to power. And what have they done so far? After months of preparation, Pelosi and company rolled out the half-baked theme “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future,” which was met with hilarious comparisons to the Papa John’s Pizza motto “Better ingredients, better pizza, Papa John’s.” Other slogans include the cringy “Make America Blue Again” and the outright pathetic “Have you seen the other guys?”
Undoubtedly, headlines for congressional races in 2018 will, among other issues, be dominated by another round of record-breaking fundraising from Pelosi. But as we have seen in the past, raising money from millionaires on the West Coast is not enough to win. It is clear Democrats need a shot in the arm, and maybe some better slogans, before 2018.
What better way to do that than to bring in a new House leader, a fresh face for the party, who is independent of party mega donors and can articulate a bold, progressive vision that sends a message of solidarity and hope to America’s working class?