As an historical matter, Mrs. Pelosi’s announcement yesterday was almost as extraordinary as the election itself, which saw the largest turnover of House seats since 1938. Speakers almost always resign after an electoral repudiation—even Newt Gingrich, who stepped down after the GOP lost a handful of seats in 1998 while retaining the majority. The last Speaker who accepted a demotion to minority leader was Democrat Sam Rayburn in 1946, who reclaimed the gavel two years later on Harry Truman’s coattails.
Presumably Mrs. Pelosi is entertaining similar hopes, which suggests that Democrats really do believe their own post-election spin. How else to explain her bid as a matter of political logic?
Remaining in power deprives her party of one of its better opportunities to show the public that Tuesday’s message was received. Even if Democrats have no plans for a policy turn, sacrificing the unpopular Mrs. Pelosi might stand as a down payment on winning back the trust of the independent and suburban voters who fled Democrats this year. Something like a dozen House Democrats ran against her as much as they did against their GOP opponents.