Is Nancy Pelosi becoming drag on Democrats? Or is there sexism at play? She’s been a leader in the House for over a decade and some people think it’s time for her to step aside for a new generation to take charge. Recent Pennsylvania congressional race victor Conor Lamb has distanced himself from Pelosi after an attack ad that linked Lamb to the House Minority Leader. Is this a trend we’ll see continue as Democrats hope to keep the “blue wave” going into the 2018 midterms?
On Point guest host Kimberly Atkins discussed these questions and more with Heather Caygle, Congressional reporter for Politico covering House Democrats, Peter Beinart, contributing editor at The Atlantic, and Krystal Ball, founder of the People's House Project, a political startup focused on recruiting working-class Democratic candidates in the Midwest and Appalachia.
On how her gender affects how people view her
Beinart: The more I researched it the more I did become convinced that her gender is the dominant factor in why she's so remarkably unpopular and why Republicans focus on her so much more than they do on Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, his predecessor...The thing about the speaker of the House is that to get to that job you have to defeat and outmaneuver men…The men in the House are basically serving under her. And if you look at the academic work we have on the way people view female leaders that produces a very negative hostile response very often by men and even by some percentage of women as well.
On the problem with criticizing Pelosi
Ball: One thing that that does bother me at times about this debate is I can guarantee you if I look at my Twitter feed right now I'm going to get all kinds of people telling me how sexist I am. On the flip side, there is a lack of space on the left to criticize any woman even when it's justified. You're just labeled as sexist.
On how Pelosi has contributed to a brand problem for Democrats
Ball: She is part of why we have this incredible brand obstacle to overcome in state after state. And I know people want to look at the successes which are real from her time as speaker. But you don't get to own those successes and distance yourself from the fact that over that time period over the past 10 years we've lost a thousand state legislative seats. We've lost governor’s mansions we lost the House, we lost the Senate, and I'm not trying to lay all of that at Nancy Pelosi's feet but a portion of the blame certainly belongs belongs there.
On the new for new leaders
Caygle: I think for a lot of Democrats in the House caucus a lot of their unease doesn't just have to do with Pelosi's age but also the two deputies underneath her, whip Steny Hoyer and then the assistant leader Jim Clyburn, they're all three in their late 70s. So there's no one in that natural successor position right behind her that is a young spring chicken, as we would say, to take over when she does decide to step down. And so I think that that is a huge part of what feeds a lot of anxieties within the caucus...when they look at their leadership and say I know that we need new leaders at some point soon but we don't even have a plan for who will be next.
On how Pelosi compares to other congressional leaders
Caygle: If you look at all the polling of congressional leaders, not just her but Speaker Ryan and others, they’re generally all unpopular, but she is the one that’s been the most villainized. And I think part of that is she is a lightning rod in a way, she's very progressive. She comes from San Francisco so she doesn't always represent the views of voters in the Rust Belt, middle America.
The problem with the Democrats in general
Ball: The party needs to stand for something. And to me what the party needs to stand for is the dignity of every single human being and working class economics, pro-labor economics. So I'm not a let's let anything go within the party kind of a person. I think we've got to stand for something but I don't think we can be ideologically rigid on every single thing. And to date we've allowed anything goes on economics, we've allowed these corporate Democrats to basically skate through without any questioning, and we've enforced ideological purity on every single cultural issue. And I think those two things need to be reversed.
Heather Caygle, Congressional reporter for Politico covering House Democrats. (@heatherscope)
Peter Beinart, contributing editor at The Atlantic. (@peterbeinart)
Krystal Ball, founder of the People's House Project, a political startup focused on recruiting working-class Democratic candidates in the Midwest and Appalachia. (@krystalball)
From The Reading List:
The Atlantic: The Nancy Pelosi Problem -- "In addition to being a masterful legislative tactician, the 77-year-old Pelosi is, in Politico’s words, 'the most successful nonpresidential political fundraiser in U.S. history.' Yet many of her colleagues want her gone."
Politico: Democrats’ civil war flares after Lamb’s upset win -- "Conor Lamb’s triumph in Trump country is being heralded by conservative Democrats as a major victory in their ongoing turf battle with the far left — and an object lesson on the kind of candidates the party needs to promote and win to take the House in November."
Nancy Pelosi. For some Democrats, that name represents one of the most effective congressional leaders in a generation, whose ability to keep members in line and fundraise at election time is unmatched. For others in the party, she’s a villain, a vestige – and her replacement is essential for the party’s future. As midterms near, which side will win out?
This hour, On Point: Does Nancy Pelosi truly speak for congressional Democrats?
This program aired on March 22, 2018.