Nancy Pelosi has worked tirelessly and to good effect to reach this moment, retaking the House eight years after the Republican wave of 2010. Overcoming significant obstacles posed by Republican gerrymandering after 2010, raising huge funds for the campaign, she is poised to have a very substantial Democratic majority. In a normal political universe she would be elected Speaker by the acclamation of her caucus.
Yet this is not a normal political universe. Although she has overwhelming support in the caucus, there are enough dissidents, perhaps, to deny her the absolute majority of the House in January, when the formal election of the Speaker will take place.
Republican strategists know that Pelosi is tough, experienced, and knows how Washington works. That is precisely why they have to demonize her.
To begin, she has — like Hillary Clinton before her — been systematically and successfully demonized by the Republicans, so that her approval rating in national polls is on the order of 30 percent. As with Hillary, Republican strategists know that Pelosi is tough, experienced, and knows how Washington works. That is precisely why they have to demonize her.
In turn, successful demonization has meant that Democratic candidates in swing districts have often had to pledge that they would not be her puppets, and indeed, like Conor Lamb (D-PA), that they would not vote for her as Speaker. To many voters in swing districts, she is seen as an arrogant San Francisco liberal, and it’s even easier to dislike those qualities in a woman.
She is indeed a liberal—and a feminist. If she were not in the leadership her voting record (reflecting her San Francisco base) would certainly be left of center within the caucus. But as Speaker (2007-11) and Minority Leader (since 2011) she has been effective in holding the caucus together around policies that might be less liberal than she might prefer.
That fact of political life, and her status as a veteran member of the Congressional establishment, has opened her to attack from her left as well. Thus, victors on the left, like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), have also committed to oppose her.
The overall numbers from both wings are not large, and in the end may not be enough to deny her the speakership. But if there are enough, we can expect others to peel off.
But here is the conundrum for the Democrats. The only thing the left wing and the right wing may be able to agree on is opposing Pelosi. If they actually succeed in blocking her ascent to the speakership, they will never agree on who should replace her.
Trump and the GOP leadership would love to be in the position of providing the votes for Pelosi to become Speaker, or alternatively to say who else should be Speaker.
Democrats should take care that they not find themselves in such a position. If they do, they will have failed their first test as a majority.