Pelosi's Refusal to Retire Shouldn't Thrill Republicans

Democrats would have lost this year even with a less controversial leader.

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Republicans are thrilled that outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi intends to stay on as leader of her soon-to-be minority caucus. They shouldn’t be.

[See where Pelosi gets her campaign money.]

The GOP is understandably giddy over their huge win in last week’s elections and ascension to majority status when the 112th Congress takes over. But many are mistakenly interpreting the results as a purely ideological pushback against President Obama and Pelosi, when the elections were about a much broader, deeper anger and frustration at the way Washington has been working--or more accurately, not working.

Pelosi’s an easy target for conservatives, especially the element that can’t stand the idea of a liberal woman third in line to the presidency. And no doubt, the calls to “fire Pelosi” helped turn out that vote. But Pelosi wasn’t the reason seasoned Democrats lost their re-election bids last Tuesday; they did that on their own. And some of the districts, such as those in upstate New York, middle Pennsylvania, and Indiana, were barely Democratic districts anyway; Democrats picked them up in one wave and lost them in another. Pelosi indeed is a polarizing figure, as strong people (particularly women) in politics tend to be. But having a less-controversial leader would not have kept the majority for the Democrats.

What Pelosi did do was to count votes better than almost any leader in recent history. Her title was speaker, but she was a master at the whip operation. There are more than 300 pieces of legislation passed by the House awaiting Senate action, and it’s because Pelosi was able to get an extraordinary amount of legislation passed by her chamber. And having the majority isn’t a lock; the sheer fact of having a large majority means that many of the members are ideologically close to the other party. Obama wanted to pass a stimulus package, financial regulatory reform, healthcare overhaul, and an energy bill. Pelosi got them all through--even the energy package, a task made much more difficult because the battle lines are as much regional as party-based.

Pelosi was, and will likely continue to be, a fund-raising aid for Republicans. But that will be at the cost of having a very strong and effective leader heading the opposition.

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