Fight for Democratic leader is a battle for party’s future

Fight for Democratic leader is a battle for party’s future
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There is a fight now for the soul of the Democratic Party. 

That fight runs through the contest for the next speaker of the House, between former speaker and House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiSenate Republicans tested on Trump support after Mueller End of Mueller shifts focus to existing probes Democrats renew attacks on Trump attorney general MORE of California and the former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Marcia FudgeMarcia Louise FudgeDems rally behind Omar as Trump escalates attacks Congressional Black Caucus faces tough decision on Harris, Booker Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to step down as CBC Foundation chair amid lawsuit MORE of Ohio. 

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While only as many as 20 incoming and incumbent House Democrats have said that they will oppose Pelosi, this maneuvering within the party does raise the possibility, under the arcane voting rules by which representatives can vote for a candidate or simply vote as present, that Pelosi may be denied the votes necessary to reclaim the speaker’s gavel.

I would argue, though, that the very fact Pelosi is being contested, despite her raising more than $100 million for the party committee this cycle, speaks volumes about the divisions within the Democratic Party. 

Indeed, the RealClear Politics Average puts Pelosi’s national favorability rating at a lowly 28.5 percent, and a recent post-election Gallup poll found that an astounding 56 percent of Democrats do not want Pelosi to be the next speaker.

Put simply, the numbers make it clear that Democrats should move on.

It makes sense as well, given the historic underrepresentation of African-Americans in the party leadership — aside from the election of President Obama, and especially following the apparent narrow defeats of Democratic gubernatorial candidates Andrew Gillum in Florida and Stacey Abrams in Georgia — that we need prominent African-American representation, now more than ever.

Moreover, to have Pelosi going up against President TrumpDonald John TrumpThorny part of obstruction of justice is proving intent, that's a job for Congress Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity' Schiff rips Conway's 'display of alternative facts' on Russian election interference MORE would be a foolish mistake for the Democrats to make, given both her overt unpopularity and the fact that partisan attacks against the party as a whole are generally focused on its leaders. 

During my experience advising President Clinton in 1996, when Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) was House speaker, the attacks became focused entirely on Gingrich and playing up his unpopularity while the administration worked towards achievable goals such as reducing the debt and the deficit or reforming welfare.

This strategy was so successful that the 1998 midterms was the first time in 174 years that the non-presidential party failed to gain seats at the midpoint of a president's second term. In fact, the Democrats gained five seats utilizing this strategy.

Given this strategy’s effectiveness, I have no doubt that Trump will attempt to do the same to Pelosi. It is exactly why Republicans and the president want her as speaker.

If Pelosi is, in fact, the next speaker of the House, Trump will have an already crafted caricature to epitomize as the enemy, further dividing the country and undoubtedly helping the president and Republicans politically. Beyond that, Nancy Pelosi at the helm of the Democratic Party is not where the future of the party lies — not by a long shot.

The most likely and logical contender to be speaker is Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking Democrat. It is unlikely that Clyburn would be a candidate against Pelosi, someone with whom he has served for a long time, but by all rights he deserves the post, and he certainly would do well carrying the torch for the party.

If Fudge is the candidate of the Black Caucus, Democrats will need new leadership to address the historic imbalance in terms of minority representation and then, ultimately, to lead the party toward to developing a new, inclusive message.

A successful Democratic message must focus on a pro-growth, inclusive economic platform that draws sharp contrasts with the deficit-enhancing Republican tax plan, as well as a sharp contrast with the policies of the Trump administration.

Ultimately, the Democratic Party is at a turning point. For the first time in two years, the party finally has captured the majority in a house of government and, thus, has the opportunity to create real, lasting change that will benefit the nation, and that could certainly benefit the party in 2020.

The Democratic Party historically has thrived when its leaders are strong, and when the party leads as the people’s party, putting forth pro-growth policies that benefit all Americans in real, tangible ways. I strongly urge my fellow Democrats to remember that, and to let that guide them as they choose the new face of the party.

Douglas E. Schoen (@DouglasESchoen) served as a pollster for President Clinton. A longtime political consultant, he is a Fox News contributor and the author of 11 books, including “Putin’s Master Plan: To Destroy Europe, Divide NATO, and Restore Russian Power and Global Influence.”