Commentary Magazine


Which Failed Leader Will Hang On?

There are parallel storylines that will tell us something about the two parties’ abilities to course correct. On one hand, we have Nancy Pelosi, who is determined to hang on past her expiration date. And then there is Michael Steele, whom GOP insiders have essentially already decided to oust.

The Democrats are conflicted and nervous; Pelosi is determined to steamroll the doubters:

At least 15 Democrats have said publicly that they have lost faith in her ability to lead — a number backed up by as many as two dozen more who are indicating the same thing privately, while others haven’t yet taken sides.

Liberal Reps. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) and Marcy Kaptur (Ohio) sent a letter to colleagues asking them to support a plan to forestall leadership elections until December — a clear effort to give the anti-Pelosi forces time to coalesce. Democratic leaders plan to go forward with the leadership contests Nov. 17, according to sources familiar with a Wednesday afternoon conference call. …

Even the New York Times’ editorial page has called on Pelosi to step aside.

(You gotta love the “even.”) Pelosi isn’t going quietly. “The shocker — and the true point of contention in Democratic ranks according to some party insiders — is that Pelosi is not ceding any power. She already claims to have the votes to keep the job of Democratic leader — leaving top lieutenants Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to engage in a caucus-splitting battle for the No. 2 job of minority whip.” Is she posturing, or does she have the votes? Listen, she blew one vote on TARP, and not since then has she permitted a vote on any significant measure for which she did not already have the votes. If they vote next week, Pelosi wins.

Meanwhile, not a soul in the RNC is conflicted about Steele’s future. As I pointed out yesterday, the GOP insiders have already coalesced around the idea of booting him out. This report echoes what I have been hearing:

Several influential RNC members told POLITICO there is widespread — and wild — speculation about possible challengers to Steele. But the top priority of many committee members, the sources said, isn’t necessarily coming to agreement on Steele’s replacement but rather ensuring he won’t have the votes to be reelected.

“There is a growing conversation amongst the members to take a look at what the options are and to identify what kind of chairman we need for the next cycle,” added another RNC member who spoke anonymously in order to be more frank. …

“I like Michael Steele. I have worked to support Michael in the committee while he’s been chairman,” [Haley's nephew Henry] Barbour told POLITICO. “But it’s clear to me that we need a change for the next election cycle.”

Now Steele’s side won an extraordinary midterm victory, no thanks to him; Pelosi’s team was thumped, a direct result of the agenda she forced her caucus to support. Yet Pelosi could well survive, while Steele will almost certainly not. Interesting how quickly the Dems became the party of the status quo.