House Democrats hold their leadership elections tomorrow, after forcing current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to postpone them two weeks ago. At the time, Tim Ryan’s challenge to Pelosi looked like a pro forma effort, a small rebuke from the back benchers that would dissipate in the face of Pelosi’s muscle. A fortnight later, with Democrats finally coming to grips with the national rebuke they themselves got from voters outside the urban cores, Ryan might have emerged at just the right time to give Democrats a chance to change directions.
Ryan tells CNN to get ready for a surprise:
— New Day (@NewDay) November 29, 2016
“I think a lot of people are going to be surprised tomorrow,” Ryan told CNN on Tuesday morning of his bid to unseat Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as House Democratic leader.
Ryan touted the endorsements he’s gotten so far from members of the caucus, and said to expect more endorsements later Tuesday.
“I think we need a change,” he said. “Again, we’re at the smallest number we’ve had in our Democratic caucus since 1929.”
After playing Pin The Blame On Everyone But The Donkey during November, Democrats have finally begun to internalize the scope of their loss. They didn’t just lose a presidential election — they lost at every level of politics. Republicans don’t just have more House seats since Herbert Hoover was president, they also have more state legislative seats than any time since Hoover as well, and they are at decades-long lows in gubernatorial seats, too. That’s why Philip Bump called this the “Thelma and Louiseing” of Democrats:
— Chris Cillizza (@TheFix) November 13, 2016
It’s not just their present that has been wiped out, but their future. They had no bench in 2016, and the way it looks now, they won’t have an adequate bench for higher-office runs for another decade — and that’s if they start making changes now.
Democrats from outside the urban centers are telling their colleagues we told you so now, including Minnesotan Tim Walz — whose expected walkover turned into a tightwire election:
Democrats in rural America have a blunt message for the rest of their party: We saw the electoral disaster coming — and it’s your fault.
Strategists and party officials say their warnings about the party’s lackluster outreach to rural voters went unheeded by Democratic leaders for years, culminating in this month’s shock defeat to Donald Trump. A presidential candidate who actually performed poorly in many cities and suburbs nonetheless scored an upset victory because of a surge in support from small towns and rural areas.
To these old Democratic political hands — many of whom hail from well outside the cities where most party professionals live — the outcome would have been preventable if the party had developed and sustained an effort to win over these voters. Instead, they say a Democratic Party that focused on only the urban and suburban vote either ignored rural America entirely or badly mishandled the outreach it did undertake.
Even this misses the point to some extent. Democrats still don’t want to admit that their embrace of identity politics above all else has left voters feeling like outsiders in the Democratic culture wars. It’s less a failure of outreach than a strategy of exclusion, and these voters have felt it coming for a long time. The results speak for themselves in the chart above. That’s not a reaction to a single cycle of skimping on yard signs, but a vast movement away from a party that has become all about elitism and cultural isolation.
If Democrats want to get themselves back on track, they need leadership that represents those people Democrats have lost over the last decade. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer hardly represent those people. Ironically, however, Pelosi might have the strength to fend off Ryan in part because of the way she’s taken the party off the cliff. More than a third of the House Democratic caucus comes from three states within that coastal elite: California, Massachusetts, and New York. That may well be enough to keep Pelosi in control of her caucus and the Democratic Party, although Massachusetts Democrat Stephen Lynch endorsed Ryan this morning.
Republicans certainly hope the rest stick with Pelosi. She, Harry Reid, and Barack Obama have done more to contribute to GOP dominance than any Republican president had managed up to now.