House minority leader Nancy Pelosi stopped by the Globe on Tuesday, with both her abilities and liabilities on display, and delivered a confident but caveated electoral message.
She was, by subjects and turns, loquacious and laconic, benevolent and barbed, effusive and elusive, one moment a Washington insider speaking a Capitol code of jargon and acronyms, the next an electoral strategist mapping the populist path she and her Democrats plan to take to victory in November.
To hear Pelosi tell it, that victory is all but signed, sealed, and delivered.
“We will win. I will run for speaker,” she said. “I feel very confident about [it].”
But what if Democrats don’t regain the House majority? Noting that US Representative Jim Clyburn, number three Democrat in the House, said recently that if they fail, the party’s leadership team should resign, I asked if Pelosi would step aside as Democratic leader if her party comes up short.
“I can’t even think about not winning,” she replied.
It might happen, though.
“No, no, no, I can’t even think about that,” she insisted. “We have made a decision to win . . . We are going to win.” If only winning were as easy as resolving to do so. But this will be the fourth attempt Pelosi has led to regain a House majority since the GOP won control in 2010.
Wouldn’t it be an ultimate expression of her avowed confidence to declare that if the Democrats fail in the fall, she will step aside as their leader? Here, Pelosi prefers optimistic words to promised deeds.
“I think the ultimate sign of my confidence is: We’re going to win!” she said. “I can’t even consider the other.” Not beyond saying that “if we don’t win, you cross that bridge when you come to it.”
As for Clyburn, whom “she loves like a brother,” his remark apparently rankled, for she returned to it several times. Comments like his are “a waste of time,” she said at one point. “Maybe he’s talking about his own plans,” she added at another.
Pelosi offered her own spin on the notion that she hasn’t succeeded as a congressional comeback kid: The strategy she and then-Senate minority leader Harry Reid concocted carried congressional Democrats to victory in 2006. Subsequent elections have either been presidential contests (2012 and 2016) or midterms during Barack Obama’s presidency (2010 and 2014), when he was the real party leader. Translation: Don’t blame her. But 2018 “is the equivalent of . . .’06,” she said.
Good news, she declares, the Democrats have a plan, “A Better Deal” for the American people. “It’s an economic message,” she fairly marveled. Apt indeed, if perhaps overdue, for a party that Donald Trump beat by snaffling away the industrial Midwest.
Pretty standard Democratic fare, there: More spending for infrastructure, pre-K-to-12 education, and certificate and degree programs; portable workplace benefits; tax incentives to promote profit-sharing; a comprehensive immigration overhaul, with protection for the Dreamers.
But though Pelosi’s predictable pitch is that the midterms aren’t about Trump but rather the “kitchen table” and “what the Congress will do for America’s working families,” her closing remarks contradicted that bit of political marketing.
“We have to win,” she said. “This is about not the Democrats, not the Republicans, it’s about our Constitution. It’s about civilization as we know it today. It’s very big.”
Let’s hope that’s hyperbole. Still, this is a big election. The view here is that the midterms will turn on whether Americans believe they should return Democrats to congressional control to act as a check on President Donald Trump’s erratic, authoritarian, norm-eroding administration.
Let’s further hope they do.
If Democrats do win, Pelosi will have an unlikely second act as speaker.
And if not? Then it will be time for her to say a gracious goodbye.Scot Lehigh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @GlobeScotLehigh.