Earl Ofari Hutchinson
It’s painful to say it but Trump’s tweet and campaign stop in the much-watched special election in Ohio’s 12th District gave GOP candidate Troy Balderson the win. The tweet was vintage Trump. It was blunt, crude, with the usual tinge of name calling. The name he called out was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Trump flatly said, Vote for O’Connor and you’re voting for Pelosi. He doubled down on that in his campaign pitch in the district for Balderson.
So, there it is, plain for all to see. In any and every district in the coming November mid-terms where a GOP candidate or incumbent is even remotely in danger of defeat, the scream to GOP voters will be, “Do you want Pelosi.”
In Ohio the scream worked, and it will work in the other close run up districts. The ploy of using Pelosi to scare the devil out of GOP voters is not new. She been a made-in-Hollywood casting call political mannequin for that for a while. She’s been in the House seemingly forever. She’s an unabashed, old line-traditional, California liberal. She has been on the top Democratic watch during an almost unprecedented losing cycle of Democratic incumbents and candidates in too many districts to count. The losses haven’t just been for congressional seats. They’ve been state and local offices that have resulted in state after state now being run by GOP governors and GOP controlled state legislatures. One other thing makes her the perfect political punching bag, she’s a she. This was the hidden, not-polite-to-say, but very real factor in Hillary’s flame out in 2016.
A big pack of Democratic incumbents and candidates in November know that Pelosi is toxic. They have cut bait from her. They tap dance around any mention of her, and when asked about their party tie to her pretend that she’s on the far side of the moon. That hasn’t stopped GOP opponents and party leaders from their attack. They still demand that Democratic congressional candidates say whether they will back Pelosi for House Speaker if they win office and the Democrats seize the House in November. This question triggers more panic and sweat attacks among Democratic candidates.
Democratic party leaders have tried to a good face on the Pelosi liability by claiming that they’re getting closer and closer in the special elections to edging GOP incumbents and candidates in rock solid red districts. They are but this isn’t a game of horse shoes. A congressional race is a winner take all race. The brutal reality is that the GOP continues to rack up the wins in these districts. The even grimmer reality is that Trump’s intervention has been a tipping point in some of the races—and he is ever ready to crow that as he did in the Ohio race.
The GOP’s waving Pelosi around to rack up wins points to another hard-political truth. An odious name can make a difference—for better or worse. Trump proved that. His name and all the negatives that go with it hurt and helped him at the same time in the initial run-up to the GOP presidential race. He got few endorsements, no big donor contributions, and almost total scorn from the GOP party establishment. This helped him for the exact reasons it hurt him. It made him appear to be the consummate political outlier, the proverbial man on the white horse who will cleanse the corrupt, deal making beltway Washington swamp.
That was a lie. But combined with a big healthy dose of his naked race, immigrant and Muslim baiting it was more than enough to convince just enough disgusted white rural blue collar, less educated voters that he was what he said he was. Pelosi is in the same spot with her name. The difference is that it’s not just one office, the presidency, that’s at stake, but dozens of offices that the Democrats are desperate to win. There’s absolutely no upside to a bad name when the opposition welds that as a hammer against you.
What can be done? Pelosi has tried mightily to push back by bowing to the wishes of many Democrats to stay out of their districts, by low keying her presence in the media, and low keying even more her position as House Minority Leader. What she hasn’t done is what more than a few Democrats want her to do. That’s make a public pledge that if the Democrats take back the House in November she will not be the party’s majority leader.
This is a pledge that Pelosi isn’t likely to make. There’s absolutely no sign that Democratic Party leaders will demand that she stand down either. The you wash my hand, I wash yours MO, is simply too deeply entrenched in the way the two parties do business. The brute truth is that it will take another notch in November on Pelosi’s disastrous losing streak to finally budge the party to demand that she go. But go, she must, or the Democrats risk losing the House in November—Again.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming Why Black Lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.