Will Pelosi bail out the GOP on election controversy

Greg Nash

President Trump’s election complaints have dominated the news for the past month and a half. While many of Trump’s loyalists have supported his claims and a significant proportion of Republican elected officials have had his back (or at least not opposed him), the balance of the public have found his claims unwarranted. But once again, Trump and the Republicans could be bailed out by the Democrats.

While Trump is engaged in a futile effort to overturn the November election, Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats have the opportunity and authority to throw out a certified election to their partisan advantage. The Iowa 2nd Congressional District race was decided by just 6 votes in favor of the Republican, Mariannette Miller-Meeks. After three recounts, the state of Iowa certified the results on Nov. 2. Yet, Democrat Rita Hart is not willing to accept the loss.

Rather than pursue a challenge through the Iowa courts, as many in the state would prefer, Hart has decided to submit her challenge to Congress — where she enjoys a partisan advantage. The procedure requires an “investigation” by the House Administration Committee, followed by a vote of the House where a simple majority would prevail — with no appeal or recourse in the courts. Presumably, Hart expects her fellow Democrats to gin up enough reasons to support voting to seat her instead of Miller-Meeks.

But the calculus for Pelosi and the Democrats is not so simple. Overturning an election result certified by a non-partisan state election board would instantly vindicate Republican complaints that the Democrats only want fair vote counting when it suits them. Trump would have a field day about corruption.

If Trump wants to come back in 2024, he needs to be able to firmly tag the Democrats with election chicanery. Polling shows a typical partisan split in views over Trump’s claims of a rigged election, but there is noticeable slippage in Republican support for Trump. In the most recent YouGov benchmark poll, a majority of independents (51 percent) considered the election fully or moderately fair and 58 percent thought Trump should concede. Even Republican support is waning, with 35 percent thinking Trump should concede, even though only 17 percent considered the election fully or moderately fair.

Trump’s actions since the election have not helped him either, with his approval rating steadily dropping. Even the normally Trump-friendly Rassmussen poll has Trump with a 7-point approval deficit. Thus far, Trump’s pardons have not hurt him with opinion split evenly over whether the pardons issued thus far are “appropriate.” But if Trump pardons himself, which he has hinted at in the past, opinion could move sharply against him. A plurality of Independents does not think Trump has the power to pardon himself (49 percent) as well as 30 percent of Republicans.

It seems like the easiest thing for Pelosi and the House Democrats to do would be to uphold the election results and tell Rita Hart to try again. In 1985 the Democrats overturned an Indiana congressional election, seating Democrat Frank McCloskey — who went on to win re-election four additional times. Congressional Republicans protested, but gained nothing politically, losing four seats in the 1986 mid-terms.

But 2021 is not 1985. There was no social media, and cable news was just getting big. There was hardly any conservative media to speak of — no Fox News and no Rush Limbaugh. Not to mention that the loss of one seat in 1985 was inconsequential, to say the least. The Democrats had a 254-181 advantage (with McCloskey) and had held the majority in the House since 1954, with that majority never falling below 30 seats since 1956.

After the 2020 elections, Democrats hold just a 222-211 seat advantage, with the Iowa seat undecided and a New York seat still uncalled (two Republicans face off in the Louisiana-5 runoff). That’s a tight margin for a fractious caucus. Pelosi will find it mighty tempting to simply grab the seat and deal with the consequences later. Not only would that be a vote in her pocket, which is something she needs, but the very instinct of any House or Senate leader is to wield any power they have to expand that power.

But throwing out a certified election will not only give a bitter Trump and unhappy conservatives plenty of political ammunition, it could easily prove pointless. Bypassing the Iowa courts in favor of a partisan process has already made Hart a poor loser. Being handed the seat would likely be a pyrrhic victory, giving Miller-Meeks a big head start for the 2022 midterms. Preliminary polling shows that overturning the election would be damaging to neighboring Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne.

Historically, midterm elections are difficult for the party holding the White House. First-term Presidents have lost in excess of 40 seats each midterm since 1994, with the sole exception of the 2002 midterms in the wake of 9-11. Unseating Miller-Meeks in favor of Hart would likely cost the Democrats two seats in Iowa and provide an issue for dozens of others.

But politicians are trained to take what they can when they can. For all the logical reasons to not grab the Iowa seat, Pelosi probably cannot help herself.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D. is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Dr. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.

Tags Cindy Axne claims of 2020 election fraud contested election Donald Trump House Democrats Iowa Nancy Pelosi opinion polling political power Presidency of Donald Trump Rita Hart

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