Nancy Pelosi and the spoils of victory

Nancy Pelosi and the spoils of victory
© Getty Images

Congress officially is in a lame-duck time frame before the current members who lost reelection bids are shown the exits and freshmen are sworn in with the 116th Congress in 2019. These are the weeks in which both political parties caucus to elect who will lead them. In the past, these votes largely were held in secret and were pro forma exercises. But for House Democrats and the undetermined fate of California’s Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Trump should accept election results 'like a man' The spectre of pension failures haunts this election Microsoft: Iranian hacking group targeting attendees of major international security conferences MORE, these are tense times.

The minority leader, who has served as House speaker in the past, Pelosi has ruled those in her ranks with an iron fist for decades. She has rewarded them as well, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for members in their reelection bids. She is a prolific fundraiser, and that has served her — and her ambitions — well.


But perhaps not anymore. Dozens of House Democratic contenders on the campaign trail uncharacteristically promised they would not vote to give the speaker’s gavel to Pelosi should Democrats retake control of the House. For many, it was a key pillar in their campaign platforms. Pelosi, after all, resembled the worst aspects of the party — a stale agenda that was successful more for what it had blocked than for what it had championed.  

Pelosi didn’t help herself, either, taking hard-left stands and picking fights on issues in congressional districts where the Democrat may have won but largely because the candidate focused more on pocketbook issues such as job and wage growth. And when Pelosi made a snarky comment days before the election that President TrumpDonald John TrumpHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Police called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE wouldn’t get his border wall because that was “a manhood issue” for him, it only signaled to the more mainstream freshmen that she is not the right one to lead.

Yet in the days following the election, we witnessed a major Pelosi charm offensive. She would unexpectedly show up (uninvited) at Democratic freshmen orientations to regale newcomers of how she nostalgically remembered that time (so long ago) when she once walked the halls of Congress as a freshman. That was back before the internet and smartphones … and a party that has struggled to find its identity and new core base of constituents.

Until just before Thanksgiving, no solid candidate had stepped forward to challenge Pelosi.  Even today, it’s not clear if one will emerge. Yet there are several whisper campaigns brewing that Pelosi does not have the support or the votes of her caucus to grab the gavel again.

Rank-and-file Democrats — and especially the freshmen — would do well to pass over Pelosi as their leader. Quite simply, she reflects what is tired and dated about the Democrats. With Pelosi, the party is in full arrested development. Sure, she pushes a Medicare-for-all initiative that, if enacted, would add trillions of dollars to the national debt and likely send the newcomers home more quickly than snow melting in my home state of South Carolina.

It’s not just Pelosi who represents a dated regime, figuratively and literally. Her leadership team’s average age is above 70 (some are in their 80s) — hardly a crisp, fresh troupe that’s ready to take on the Trump administration and today’s challenges facing the nation.

There’s but one reason for Pelosi’s push to serve as speaker again: raw power. Majority rule reigns in the House of Representatives, so it’s not as if the Democrats’ agenda would fail without her at the helm. Even Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE, someone not as strong as she by historical standards, was able to push through landmark tax reform and other big victories.  

The same could be said for a Democrat other than Pelosi in the chair on the dais. This is personal for Pelosi, whose behavior betrays her ambition. But for the good of the Democratic Party, incoming freshmen and other members should deny her the gavel.

Armstrong Williams (@ARightSide) is author of the book “Reawakening Virtues” and served as an adviser and spokesman for Dr. Ben Carson’s 2016 presidential campaign.