Here is one clue on how to view efforts to get rid of Nancy Pelosi as the leader of the House Democrats. The most progressive Democratic House members, including Keith Ellison, Maxine Waters, Jerry Nadler, and Barbara Lee all support her. This is not to ignore the reality that progressives have complaints with Pelosi including the way the DCCC decides to support candidates in primaries. Inherent in the role of being a party leader is the need to unify the party on big issues, which means disappointing the left sometimes. However, Pelosi is far more progressive than her predecessors and those who have challenged her.
Centrists and hawks have tried and failed to challenge Pelosi’s leadership since 2002 when, as minority whip of the House Democrats, she opposed then–Democratic leader Richard Gephardt’s support of the Iraq War. She stood up to President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s suggestion to back away from the Affordable Care Act. In her book Make Trouble, Cecile Richards describes how Pelosi was able to eliminate a last-minute amendment by anti-choice Democrat Bart Stupak that would have cut abortion providers from the Affordable Care Act. Pelosi’s recent eight-hour speech on behalf of Dreamers defied the conventional wisdom of consultants who are urging Democrats to focus on issues that appeal to “angry white” voters who went for Trump. Democrats will demoralize a lot of their base if they get gaslighted into dissing Pelosi.
Corporate Democrats and their supporters in the punditocracy usually mask their ideological agenda with faux pragmatism and counsel the rejection of Pelosi because of her “negatives”—which are that she is too old, too liberal, too female. Republicans have spent a fortune demonizing her. With Barack Obama less useful as a bogeyman, Republicans have increased their use of Pelosi in TV ads—in 2014, 13 percent of ads for GOP house races featured Pelosi, but that number has rocketed to 34 percent this year.
The New York Times’ Frank Bruni recently touted Dan McCready, a North Carolina Democratic House candidate who promises not to vote for Pelosi for speaker and smugly concluded that those of McCready’s ilk are “recognizing that a Democratic majority requires Democratic maturity.” Bruni’s delusional definition of “maturity” is based on the failed playbook of pandering to a shrinking number of “swing voters” at the expense of inspiring the far larger universe of women, people of color, and young progressives.
Admittedly, there are a few people in historically Republican districts that may prefer an anti-Pelosi Democrat, but the market for this message is very limited. Conor Lamb recently won a close election in a Pennsylvania district that went for Trump by double digits. In a Public Policy Polling survey of his voters, 43 percent said they voted for Lamb because “he will defend social security and Medicare,” 18 percent because “he refused corporate special interest money,” and only 7 percent because “he said he will not vote for Nancy Pelosi for House Speaker.”