House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is defiant. The 30-year legislator from California is ready to fight members of her caucus who say it’s time for her to step aside as the top House Democrat after 14 years at the helm. She did just that Thursday afternoon by bragging about her qualities at a press conference.
“I’m a master legislator. I am a strategic, politically astute leader,” Pelosi told reporters. “My leadership is recognized by many around the country, and that is why I’m able to attract the [financial] support that I do, which is essential to our elections.” The subtext wasn’t a subtext at all because Pelosi wanted to send a direct message to her detractors: any junior member of the House Democratic Caucus who wants to go on TV and keep arguing for her removal as leader is welcome to do so. Just remember, she still has the support of a vast majority of her colleagues—and the betrayal won’t go unnoticed.
This isn’t the first time that Pelosi, one of the most effective fundraisers in the country, has been challenged to leave her post as minority leader. After Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump last November, a significant crop of Democratic lawmakers attempted to vote her out. Usually, these kinds of intra-party leadership challenges don’t end well for the challenger: when a couple of conservative Republicans sought to run against Speaker John Boehner in January 2015, they only received 25 votes between them. But, Congressman Tim Ryan was far more successful than that when he challenged Pelosi last November, winning 63 votes. While Pelosi did prevail with more than double Ryan’s vote share, she also lost nearly a third of her caucus in the process.
Pelosi can tout her experience as a key mover and shaker during the passage of Obamacare in 2010. She can boast about her unique ability to raise a stupid amount of money for Democratic candidates and causes. She can even argue, like she did on Thursday, that she was instrumental in getting the Democrats back into the House majority in 2006 after 12 years of Republican rule. But, talking about the 2006 midterm elections isn’t going to win her any sympathy from the younger generation of Democrats, who want to shake up the party and are tired of losing congressional races time and time again.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional leadership continue to take a glass-half-full mentality. DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Lujan attempted to do just that with his recent memo that spun Jon Ossoff’s disappointing loss as a demonstration of how much ground Democrats are gaining in traditionally conservative districts. But, coming close to winning isn’t the same thing as winning, and gaining a few Republican votes in a red district is nowhere near equivalent to turning the district blue. The present reality remains bleak for Democrats nationwide: they’re 0-4 this year in special elections, despite one of the most unpopular Republican administrations in history.
It may not all be Nancy Pelosi’s fault. When Democrats have no choice but to rely on a banjo-playing, cowboy hat-wearing political neophyte to run a statewide race in Montana, it’s a safe assumption that there are some recruiting issues that run deeper than House leadership. But, Pelosi is the woman at the front of the pack, and the buck stops with her. After everything that’s happened over the past seven months, anti-Pelosi Democrats have a right to make their case.