Lesson 3: Do not let the most vitriolic and uncompromising members of your party set the policy agenda.
Under Speakers Boehner and Ryan, Republican leadership bowed to pressure from the most conservative, safe-district members, unsuccessfully attempting to repeal Obamacare—a move popular with the base, but unpopular among the broader electorate—and enacting tax reform which, in eliminating the ability of some taxpayers to deduct state taxes above a certain threshold, turned California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania and other high-tax states into “killing zones” for Republicans in the 2018 elections, denying the GOP a majority they thought redistricting had ensured.
One lesson to be learned from the Republican failures is that the public airing of intraparty disputes, while helpful in party safe havens, has a damaging effect on the party’s brand in swing districts. Even Republicans who voted “no” on party initiatives were held liable on Election Day for what the rest of the party did. (This was also true for Democrats in the 2010 election; half of all the House Democrats who voted against Obamacare were defeated by Republicans anyway.)
On this front, Pelosi is not likely to get help from the party’s presidential contenders, as the race to win over the activist base emphasizes liberal litmus tests on controversial proposals like “Medicare for All,” the “Green New Deal” and reparations. Individual House members in more conservative districts will (and should) try to separate themselves from these issues. But as voting habits become more parliamentary in nature and less localized (with help from the earmark ban, which has made the localization of House races more difficult, as members have no tangible project to bring home), party branding dominates.