Still out of step
Nancy Pelosi survives, but her party celebrates only its past
“Ihave a special spring in my step today,” Rep. Nancy Pelosi exulted on being re-elected leader of the Democratic minority, “because this opportunity is a special one, to lead the House Democrats, bring everyone together as we go forward.”
Perhaps. We offer congratulations, but Mrs. Pelosi will need a brave face along with a spring in her step as she whistles past her party’s expanding graveyard. Democrats will be in a distinct minority in the 115th Congress, for the fourth Congress in a row.
Only a month ago, Mrs. Pelosi, serving her 14th term, reckoned it was even money that the election would make her the speaker again. The Democrats were confident they would pick up the 30 seats necessary to win back control of the House. They gained only 6.
The future looks bleak. Her lieutenants — Reps. Steny Hoyer, 77, of Maryland and James Clyburn, 76, of South Carolina — were re-elected, ensuring that a sclerotic gerontocracy will direct the Democrats in the House for another two years. This was the very down-ballot disaster predicted for the Republicans.
She defeated a robust insurgent challenge from Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio. At 76, Mrs. Pelosi is nearly twice the age of Mr. Ryan, 43, but with some mileage left before the party trades her for something new. Age, after all, is relative, up to a point. Ronald Reagan was regarded by Democrats as too old for a second term in 1984 at age 73. Mrs. Pelosi’s colleagues must regard the Gipper now as a mere kid.
Age and guile, as satirist P.J. O’Rourke wryly observed, “beat youth, innocence and a bad haircut.” Tim Ryan’s challenge drew a respectable 63 votes, and he rightly argues that his party’s problem is not the age of the leaders but the loss of its connection with America’s working class. Mr. Ryan’s 63 votes this year mirrored the 63 House seats Democrats lost in the 2010 midterm elections, leaving them with just 193 members in the 435-member House, the party’s fewest since the 1940s.
It has been downhill since. Democrats will have only 194 members when the new term begins.
Doing the same wrong thing twice and expecting a different result is crazy, as the wise man said, and the Democrats have not yet learned much from their several congressional lickings. Some Democrats have seen the handwriting on the wall. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, elected to a third term this month, says it’s obvious that “the current strategy doesn’t work. Millions of Americans don’t feel that our party represents them any more, and they’ve said so, loudly, in multiple elections.”
The hard-left nostrums of Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, however, are still marching music in many Democratic ears. The marching music does nothing to tug the Democratic Party back to the center where most Americans live. Mrs. Pelosi, still with a lot to learn, insists that Democrats will rebound. “We know how to win elections,” she says. “We’ve done it in the past. We will do it again.” But nostalgia for the dead past has never won an election.