The Speaker of the House ran the Democratic Caucus with a firm hand, only to run into an electoral buzzsaw dissatisfied with the performance of a Democratic President and Congress. The Democrats lost their majority and the Speaker was faced with being reduced to Minority Leader, but rather than retire, worked to turn around a Democratic majority two years later and regain the Speakership.
I'm talking, of course, about Speaker Sam Rayburn, who faced this situation not once, in 1946, but again, in 1952, and who thrice gaveled the dais in the House. And I predict that now-former Speaker Nancy Pelosi will follow the same path trod by the Rayburn. For those who know her will agree -- and I count myself among them -- that of all Speakers in recent memory, she most embodies Rayburn in her iron will, her boundless energy, and her unwavering commitment to her party and caucus.
There is a strain of thought running through the rumor mills of the Beltway, and magnified in my home city of San Francisco by self-serving wanna-be politicos, that with the loss of her Speakership Pelosi will retire. That she will not run for Minority Leader and quietly but surely exit into that good night of retired politicians writing her memoirs while the world slowly passes her by.
The caucus that Pelosi has is essentially the same caucus that elected her first, as Minority Whip, and then as Minority Leader. It is a left -- liberal -- moderate caucus. It is made up of men and women who came up with her through the trenches, who recognized her leadership early on, who were and are in awe of her consummate legislative skill and her prodigious fundraising abilities. Notwithstanding the brave brayings of a few, it will be a very cold day before a majority of her caucus will turn on her if she decided to stand for Minority Leader. And I predict that she will.
This "national referendum on Pelosi" idiocy propounded by news pundits is so much hindsight smoke. The GOP has been running against Nancy Pelosi for several elections without much traction. It's a convenient, simplistic, and sexist (yes, sexist) explanation for something far more complex in yesterday's elections. Nancy Pelosi did not create the Tea Party -- the Republican Party's failings did. Nancy Pelosi did not create an economic house of cards that is still mired in a swamp -- the Bush Administration and the Republican-controlled House and Senate did that. Nancy Pelosi has not kept the economy in the doldrums; as it bears repeating, most noteworthy economists believe that without the American Restoration and Recovery Act (aka, the Stimulus Bill) the economy would not be stagnant -- it would be dead.
But Nancy Pelosi did have the misfortune of being Speaker at a time in America where patience in the electorate had finally run its course. That our society of instant gratification, of what-did-you-do-for-me-today expectations, where the phrase "the long run" is more associated with an Olympic marathon than the patience to understand that change sometimes comes slowly, just couldn't understand why a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress didn't magically brew a fix for the economy like a bowl of instant ramen. In 1946 the Democrats found themselves in a similar position, having to explain a post-war recession after the flush of victory in a world war, and they paid a similarly heavy price. It doesn't mean, however, that she has to as well.
Nancy Pelosi is not a Newt Gingrich, who quit his seat while still Speaker. She is not a Dennis Hastert, who quit after losing the Speakership. The idea that a House Leader quits after losing a majority is not only a fairly recent notion, it is not proven out by history. Rayburn, a Democrat, and Joseph Martin, a Republican, played tag-team Speaker over the course of several elections. Neither thought or was prompted to quit simply because the electorate had gone the other way. ( Indeed Martin lost his post as Republican leader after the 1958 elections but continued to serve his district for another four terms.)
Nancy Pelosi is a fighter. She ran for office believing that she had the skills necessary to best represent the people of her district in San Francisco. That hasn't changed. She ran for leader because her colleagues believe in her and her abilities, and that hasn't changed. In the weeks to come, the Democratic Caucus will understand -- if it hasn't already -- that she is best equipped to continue the party and bridge-building that has the Democrats only one election away from being the majority again. And, if she wants, which I believe she will, Pelosi will be Minority Leader, and working actively to regain a Democratic majority.
Don't bet against her being Speaker again, sooner, rather than later.
Postscript: I worked for Congresswoman Pelosi for seven years. I know her better than some, not as well as others, but I haven't spoken to her or any of her staff or anyone close to her in writing this piece. Just for the record.