Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: The Pelosi problem

Just a few words about the … ahem … Pelosi problem.

This should be a time of unfettered glee for Democrats looking toward the 2018 midterm elections and especially the 2020 presidential campaign.

After all, the nation is led by an unconstrained, undisciplined, uncomprehending tweeter in chief who by several estimates has managed to tell more than 600 lies since assuming office. And now President Donald Trump could be on the verge of denying health care to as many as 24 million Americans — many of whom constitute his political base.

For Democrats, this ought to feel like the New England Patriots about to take the field against Radcliffe College.

Instead, they are led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. To date, Democrats are bupkes in special elections to replace Republican House members who left their seats to join the new Trump administration. To be sure, some of those jobs were in safe Republican districts. But last week, with the defeat of Democrat Jon Ossoff in Georgia to succeed former congressman Tom Price after he became Trump's secretary of Health and Human Services, a cabal of Democrats began griping that maybe it is time for Pelosi to step down so that she can spend more time with her plastic surgeon.

But the 77-year-old former House speaker is standing firm, resisting whispers that the time might have come for a new generation of party leaders to move Democrats forward so someone with a D after their name can get elected to something — anything.

"I think I'm worth the trouble," a hubris-addicted Pelosi said days ago.

And that's a lot of trouble. On Pelosi's watch, the Democrats lost a presidential election against Archie Bunker, only without the sense of dignity. And an expected Democratic takeover of the U.S. Senate failed to materialize.

Democratic representation in state capitals is at its nadir. Democrats control only 14 state legislatures. And the party has done simply a dreadful bench-building job at recruiting Democratic candidates. See: Florida.

Little wonder that with so many opportunities within the reach of Democrats — only to lose to a party that wants to gut Medicaid funding, denies climate change and wants to lavish massive tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of the middle class — Pelosi's grasp on power might be suspect.

No doubt Pelosi is a savvy political operative who has led a disciplined House Democratic caucus, while her Republican counterparts more often look like they are engaged in a Three Stooges pie fight.

And her considerable fundraising skills are the stuff of legend. The New York Times has reported that since 2002, Pelosi has raised about $568 million for her party, including a $141 million haul just since 2016. That's all very impressive.

Still, what's the point of raising all that cash if you can't win anything? Fairly or not, Republicans have done a masterful job in demonizing Nancy Pelosi as an out-of-touch liberal elitist who was the architect of transforming the nation's health care system into a commie-inspired, socialized medicine bureaucracy. And she's from San Francisco, too, that den of treasonous anarchy.

Indeed in the Georgia congressional race, the GOP repeatedly linked Ossoff to Pelosi so much you would have thought the young candidate was Pelosi's love child by way of Bill Maher. Oddly enough it was Ossoff who refused to commit himself to supporting Pelosi for speaker should the Democrats ever retake the House.

So it's hardly a shock Trump has tweeted his hopes that the Democrats keep Pelosi exactly where she is.

It is never easy to stand aside. Nancy Pelosi is a historymaking political figure who has served her party and her country rather well. That's a fine legacy.

But she's also become the Republicans' best weapon against her own party that not even $568 million can seem to do much to blunt.

What to do? Well, there is a potential successor in the wings — Tampa Bay's own Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor. She's young, articulate, attractive and experienced.

And Castor isn't a contagious carrier of trouble. It's just a thought.

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