Newt Gingrich’s tenure as speaker of the House casts a long shadow over the landscape of American politics — so long, in fact, that we often forget his tenure only lasted for four years.
Few other House speakers have had such an outsized influence on the political landscape since World War II, and almost all of them lasted far longer in the position. Sam Rayburn served 16 years, Tip O’Neill served 10.
“At least seven House Democratic incumbents lost their re-election races, including first-term moderates in Florida, New Mexico and South Carolina and even the long-serving chairman of the House Agriculture Committee,” Bloomberg’s Billy House noted.
“This has immediate implications for Pelosi’s leverage leading the party’s negotiations with the Trump administration on a new round of coronavirus relief. There has been grumbling — including from some of the Democrats who lost Tuesday — about her top-down approach to the talks and her resolve to hold out for a package worth more than $2 trillion.
“Pelosi will also face pressure from the growing progressive wing of the party, which will have additional clout with a handful of new members who won primaries against senior incumbents,” House continued. “While Republicans depict Pelosi as a liberal lightning rod, members on the left of her caucus complain she has actually been too timid when it comes to proposals like Medicare for All and the environmental measures included in the Green New Deal.”
It’s not just the left that wants her gone, but the more traditionally liberal wing of the party wouldn’t mind her leaving, either.
The Hill reported Thursday that two “moderate” Democrats said “they were reaching out to their colleagues about backing one of Pelosi’s top lieutenants, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), for Speaker in the next Congress.”
“He’s the only one prepared and positioned” for the role, one of the lawmakers told The Hill anonymously. “He bridges moderates and progressives better than anyone. And most importantly, he’s not Nancy Pelosi.”
And that’s where Gingrich comes in. During the 1998 midterms, Gingrich was supposed to expand the Republican majority in the House significantly, particularly since the impeachment of then-President Bill Clinton had just gotten underway. Clinton was perceived as wildly unpopular after the Starr Report, published that September, detailed his sexual relationship with a White House intern and how he’d both lied about it under oath and allegedly tried to obstruct justice.
The perception was wrong. The Republicans didn’t win a landslide in the House. They didn’t even win a few seats, as the party that doesn’t control the White House almost always does in the midterms.
The House Republicans lost seats — and, facing a potential challenge to his leadership, Gingrich resigned as House speaker just four years after the so-called “Republican Revolution” he helped lead.
“Today I have reached a difficult personal decision,” he said in a statement at the time, according to The Washington Post. “The Republican conference needs to be unified, and it is time for me to move forward where I believe I still have a significant role to play for our country and our party.”
Will Nancy Pelosi do the same thing? She’s faced a similar crossroads during her time as Democratic minority leader in 2017. After Democrat Jon Ossoff lost a House special election in Georgia that Democrats poured money into, there were calls for her to step aside.
After all, the Democrats had been the minority party in the lower chamber since 2011 — and while the Karen Handel-Jon Ossoff 2017 race wouldn’t have affected that in any substantive way, it would have been the first major symbolic triumph for the party in the Trump administration #Resistance era.
“I think I’m worth the trouble,” Pelosi said at the time.
If you define “trouble” as “flubbing it at the ballot box,” 2018 seemed to indicate trouble was gone.
It merely went into remission, however, and Tuesday was a full-blown relapse of trouble.
It’s certainly not the first time that’s happened since she took over as the leader of the House Democratic caucus in 2003.
If she were to follow in the steps of Newt Gingrich, it ought to be the last one. He resigned within days of a performance like this, and in an election that didn’t carry the same consequences.
I’d argue Nancy Pelosi was never worth the trouble, but she certainly isn’t now.
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