Democrats know that the 2018 elections are a do-or-die moment for their party. They’ve raised electoral expectations to the point where winning back the House majority isn’t reason for celebration, it’s a yawn-and-shrug event. And if it doesn’t happen? Well, the New York Times’ Frank Bruni writes:
Howard Wolfson, who was one of the chief strategists for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, summed up the situation well.
He said that the House majority must be Democrats’ nonnegotiable goal, because it matters so much and is indisputably attainable. But if they don’t succeed, he added, “There will be a circular firing squad.” And it will be an especially furious one.
Progressives will point to moderates who lost their contests as definitive proof that the party should move left. Moderates will point to progressives who didn’t prevail and insist the opposite.
Democrats aren’t making it easy on themselves. Many in the party haven’t waited for the 2018 election results to form a circular firing squad. Hillary Clinton supporters have lined up to continue her fight for incremental policy victories, Bernie Sanders supporters have been pushing far-left political poison pill bills, and various party insiders are angling to minimize both factions and find a winning candidate for 2020.
And then there is Nancy Pelosi. The “leader” of the House Democrat caucus has only succeeded at leading them into the minority, the result of a failure to recognize that her San Francisco-based policy priorities don’t extend beyond a select few coastal enclaves. Somehow, despite being disliked by a majority of American voters, and an increasing percentage of her own caucus, she has hung on to power, thus giving Republicans a reliable target.
Democrats are finally beginning to see that Pelosi is the weakest length in their political chain and are waking up to the fact that they must do something about it.
“I do think we have this real breadth and depth of talent within our caucus and I do think it’s time to pass a torch to a new generation of leaders and I want to be a part of that transition,” Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., said on C-SPAN’s Newsmakers. “I want to see that happen. I think we have too many great members here that don’t always get the opportunities that they should. I would like to change.”
Sanchez’s comments follow Rep. Tim Ryan’s attempt at a party coup last year. Despite the fact that Ryan was a backbencher with no signature policy victories, and despite the fact that his bid for leadership was largely symbolic, Ryan nevertheless collected 63 votes—nearly a third of the caucus. It was s shocking blow to Pelosi and was seen as a vote of no confidence in her agenda, which had continually failed to resonate in moderate, competitive districts.
Rep. Sanchez’s challenge is fundamentally different than Ryan’s bid. Whereas Ryan’s industrial Ohio district sat far to the right of the average Democrat member, Sanchez is more ideologically aligned to the caucus. She’s also already on the leadership ladder as vice-chair of the Democratic Caucus, making her the fifth-highest ranking member.
Sanchez’s run at leadership may be just what the party needs to shake up the stale leadership structure and reinvigorate the House caucus. But, as Jonathan Bernstein writes for Bloomberg View, it could also rip open the already-fraying seams of the insider/outsider, centrist/liberal party divides:
Uncertainty about her future can make it more difficult to hold the party together. Meanwhile, semi-open jockeying among various candidates for the top positions could wind up becoming a distraction, with hopefuls trying to one-up each other to score points within and outside the caucus.
Some of that can be perfectly healthy. For example, if leadership candidates work harder at raising money for 2018 House campaigns, it’s could mean more overall fundraising for Democrats. But it could also get awkward, or worse, with leadership candidates potentially trying to differentiate from each other on ideological grounds, or even just if personal relationships are strained between the current leadership and various members who aspire to replace them.
Judging by recent events, it could also lead to a situation in which would-be leaders attempt to out-liberal each other in an attempt to prove their progressive bona fides to the activist left. And what Democrats need even less than Pelosi’s old guard ways is another uber-liberal Californian willing to drive the party even further from the ideological mainstream.
Photo credit: Victor Grigas