Question for Nancy Pelosi: Who is the Leader of Your Party Right Now?

Posted: Mar 22, 2017 1:06 PM

I'll give you the fun goodies first. On CNN last evening, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- who regularly alternates 'least popular Congressional leader' championships with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer -- was asked by Anderson Cooper about the state of the Democratic Party. Who is its leader, the host asked, indirectly referencing the reality that voters have relegated Democrats to minority status virtually everywhere but a small handful of states. The first two names to pop into Pelosi's mind were an ex-president who decimated the party over his tenure in office, and a failed presidential candidate who managed to lose to an allegedly unelectable opponent. Plus there are some other people, and stuff:

On one hand, Pelosi probably should have had a better top-of-mind answer ready for a question like this, given that she herself is one of the most powerful elected Democrats in America. On the other hand, maybe we ought to cut her some slack; the American people don't really know how to answer that question, either:
On the question of who should be a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, Sanders led the field, at 14 percent, followed by former first lady Michelle Obama at 11 percent, Warren at 9 percent, Clinton at 8 percent, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo each at 4 percent, and television personality Oprah Winfrey and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) each at 3 percent. Forty-five percent said they want to see someone not on the list of possible candidates in the survey.

Despite the unpopularity of the president and the Republican-led Congress (perhaps leavened by trends showing Americans' economic outlook and overall optimism are sharply improved over recent months), Democrats are trudging through wilderness territory at the moment.  A plurality of Americans are looking for a fresh Democratic leader to emerge, excluding anyone they've ever heard of.  Ouch. The out party will have a solid opportunity to regain ground in a number of states and in the House of Representatives next year, of course, but the US Senate map is stacked heavily against them.  And in a new Politico/Morning Consult national survey, Republicans hold a clear trust advantage on voters' top issues: The economy (+10), jobs (+7) and national security (+18).

But before conservatives get too smug over the Democrats' plight -- which continues to unfold, by the way -- please recall that the GOP found itself in a similarly dire situation in 2009.  The party spent the ensuing years clawing itself back into power, using the president's unpopular agenda as an effective foil, eventually winning back virtually everything.  They didn't do so by rallying behind a singular dynamic leader, or even by presenting a specific governing agenda (with a few notable exceptions, like -- ahem -- repealing and replacing Obamacare).  They generally just opposed Obama and the Democrats tooth and nail, and parlayed deep public misgivings about the direction of the country into sweeping backlash victories.  Due to the volatile and polarized nature of the electorate, Democrats may well follow a similar playbook as they try to rebuild.  And although the GOP managed to stave off some demographic challenges in 2016, they're still having trouble "winning the future," to borrow a phrase.  Via Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson: