"Intraparty war": What happens to Pelosi after a 2018 failure?

The wonder of this question is that it’s being asked at all — and especially, as Politico reports, by Democrats themselves. Wait, some readers may think, won’t Democrats win big in the first-term midterm against an unpopular president? Until very recently, that had been the conventional wisdom and Democrats had absolutely convinced themselves of it.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the blue wave — the tide went back out:

It’s no coincidence that the apex of the Democrats’ average lead on the generic ballot hit when the tax-reform bill passed in Congress. Nancy Pelosi, along with Chuck Schumer and activists all across the Left shrieked that the bill would literally kill people and produce no benefit at all to the 99%ers. Protesters filled the galleries with shouts of “Kill the bill, don’t kill us!” Ever since it passed, Democrats have consistently argued that the observable and objective benefits coming to workers are “crumbs,” even in four-figure unscheduled bonuses.

Suddenly, though, Democrats are discovering that their overwrought hysteria on tax reform appears to have backfired. The gap between the two parties, sitting at 6 points today, is narrower than any time since last May. Six points may sound significant, but as Nate Silver pointed out earlier today on Twitter, that’s well within range of a GOP majority after November’s midterm elections if that holds up:

Karen Tumulty warned Democrats in her Washington Post column last night that most waves “break before they reach the shore”:

For an electoral wave to rise high enough to wash a majority-making two dozen House seats into the Democratic column, the party will have to take territory that Hillary Clinton could not.

There again, Virginia offers reason for caution as well as hope for Democrats. They romped the Old Dominion in November, picking up 15 seats in the House of Delegates. But that victory fell one seat short of what Democrats needed to break the GOP majority. And 14 of those were in legislative districts that Clinton also won, suggesting that the party had done little to expand its reach since 2016.

Meanwhile, economic confidence — notwithstanding Monday’s market plunge — has reached a level not seen in 17 years. That suggests, among other things, that the tax cuts that looked so unpopular when they were passed in December may be an asset to Republicans by this fall.

In fact, to extend the seafaring metaphor, Pelosi and her team may have wrecked their credibility on the shoals of snobbery regarding the impact and meaning of tax cuts and compensation boosters. If anything, they have made themselves look even more out of touch than Hillary Clinton did in 2016 … and that takes some doing.

We still have a long way to go before the midterms, but Politico’s Heather Caygle and John Bresnahan report that House Democrats have already started to wonder where they go if they flop in the midterms. More to the point, what should they do with Pelosi if that happens? According to their reporting, a “stealthy discussion” has begun, and it’s not just about Pelosi but also Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn, her two longtime lieutenants:

Assuming Pelosi either leaves on her own or is pressured to step down, her exit would trigger a messy battle between the party’s old guard, led by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and the party’s younger members, represented by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).

It’s a generational showdown that’s been put off for years, but one that Democrats might not be able to be avoid much longer.

“It will be an intraparty war. That’s what you can expect,” said Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who predicted a “mass exodus” of Democrats if they don’t win the House in November. “That’s at the highest levels of leadership and at the committee level.”

If Hoyer or Clyburn think their caucus will support them in case of a Pelosi resignation, they’d better think again:

“I think some leaders pushing 80 think they are the future, and it’s laughable. And I think they are in for a big surprise, because most of us are ready for a real change and new leadership,” said another House Democrat, referring to Hoyer’s age. He described that sentiment as “deep and widespread.”

It would be easier to take this more seriously if the House Democratic caucus hadn’t faced this same problem in four different election cycles. Under Pelosi’s leadership, they have lost twice as many elections as they won (2006, 2008 vs 2010-16), and they haven’t even come close to getting the majority back. Pelosi managed to eke out a popular-vote edge in Barack Obama’s 2012 win, 48.8/47.6, but Republicans still won 234 seats to 201 for House Democrats. Four years later, Pelosi couldn’t even ride Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote win, with Republicans edging out Democrats 49.1/48 in 2016’s House elections and get their current 241/194 advantage.

So yeah, if she loses again, get ready for “intraparty war,” or something. In any rational caucus, this record of failure would have prompted a resignation after the 2010 midterm disaster, and if one wasn’t forthcoming, removal of failed leadership at that point. Three cycles later, it’s no longer an “intraparty war” if House Democrats finally do something about their extremist leadership. It’s a battle to recognize reality — and based on their reactions to the tax-reform benefits that everyone else recognizes, House Democrats will likely find a way to lost that too.