There's an interesting storyline playing out in the corridors of the U.S. Capitol this week. Yes, Congress is in its fall recess, members having returned home for the last stretch of campaigning before that first Tuesday in November. But all is not so quiet on the Eastern front; the Washington punditocracy is still flourishing, reading the tea leaves to discover the fate of every House and Senate incumbent.
What ultimately happens on Election Day will certainly impact the makeup of House and Senate leadership on both sides of the aisle. Many are speculating just how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, will govern in a new era with far fewer Democrats and, most likely, a lost majority.
Last week, some Hill papers openly wondered what type of vengeance a scorned Pelosi would exact on those who dared to question her decisions and legislative strategies that put the rank-and-file in such dire straits.
Such predictions on Pelosi's future behavior and how she'll handle those unfaithful members are misguided and a waste of time. No matter what happens on Election Day, less than a month from today, Mrs. Pelosi will not be speaker of the House in 2011 and may not be leading Democrats in Congress at all.
There are three primary reasons for this conclusion.
The first is obvious — it goes without saying that a GOP takeover means the end of Pelosi as House Speaker; Republicans won't vote her as Speaker. However, Pelosi is too liberal, not only for the country, but even her caucus. Few constituents realize that the first vote each member takes soon after he or she is sworn in is a vote for the Speaker. Up until this year, not many cared.
But when so many are losing their jobs, and realizing the policies of the Nancy Pelosi/Harry Reid Congress are partially to blame, they begin to wonder why a Heath Shuler out of rural North Carolina, for example, would dare to support such a diametrical political opposite to their views and way of life.
Put simply, incoming freshman Democrats as well as sophomores who barely survive this cycle will look up from the ashes and heaps of political rubble and realize they can't afford to go through that firestorm again, no matter how much money Mrs. Pelosi raises from her San Francisco liberal friends. Want to know who else understands that viewpoint? House Majority Leader (and moderate) Steny Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. He gets it. Through it all, he has remained loyal, but quiet; staying in the shadows and watching this vignette unfold.
The second reason is the Dennis Hastert Syndrome. The former GOP Speaker was highly regarded for his ability to move legislation with Republican-only votes. But his grand strategy soon began to fail as he repeatedly forced his rank-and-file to rubber stamp progressive, trillion-dollar policies of an increasingly unpopular president.
Sound familiar? Like Hastert to President George W. Bush, Speaker Pelosi is too closely tied to President Obama. The old saw that read, "The president proposes, and the Congress disposes" is totally lost on Mrs. Pelosi's House, and for that she will pay a price. The electorate (especially independent voters) likes a balance of power. And while Minority Leader Pelosi espoused such views when Mr. Bush was president, she certainly hasn't followed her own advice now that Mr. Obama is in the White House.
Finally, the continued ethical lapses of House Democrats will contribute to Mrs. Pelosi's fall next year. She personally took ownership of "draining the swamp" that had corrupted so many Republicans and led to that party's losses in 2006. Yet, with every day that passes, more and more allegations of ethical dereliction turn up at levels that would make even former Republican congressman Mark Foley blush. Through her own pledges, responsibility for those issues lays squarely at the feet of Mrs. Pelosi. And to set the ultimate example that Democrats too, have learned their lesson, she must be the sacrificial lamb.
Critics will say no average American follows the inner-workings of the Congress very closely; that they could no more name Mrs. Pelosi as the current speaker than they can Gary Locke as Commerce Secretary. That idea has become a myth with the advent of 24-hour cable news and the Internet, but even then it is of no matter. The only votes that count for House Speaker are not cast by 200 million Americans, but rather by 434 who know her very well. And therein lies her problem.
Members of Congress, especially Democrats, know that with Pelosi, past is prologue. That if they vote for her as Speaker again, they are apt to see a return to the same headstrong liberal agenda that put them in the box they were in this year.
o rank-and-file Democrat wants to go through that hell again. In fact, I don't believe Pelosi can survive a challenge to return as minority leader in the House should Democrats lose the majority. Speakers rarely survive as their party's head following a major turn over of the House. If the Democrats manage to hold on, we can expect a coup; if the polls hold true to form, a loss of an overwhelming majority will leave Pelosi with no legitimate claim to lead her party. The taste of defeat will be so strong in the mouths of those who survived that they will want a new shepherd to lead them back to the land of Canaan.
As the polling wizards work their statistical magic to determine who will wield the Speaker's gavel for the next Congress, one outcome seems clear: Win or lose, Nancy Pelosi will not survive a bruised Democratic vote in the first days of 2011. Her unapologetically liberal ways have finally caught up with her.