Go Ahead, Challenge Nancy Pelosi

Eric Medlin
4 min readNov 28, 2018

The Nancy Pelosi challenge is good for the Democratic Party.

Nancy Pelosi after learning of her electoral victory in the 2018 midterms. Source: NBC News

In the week before Thanksgiving, it seemed as though the recently won Democratic House majority had already been squandered. A group of insurgent Democrats had challenged the leadership of presumed Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Arguing for a younger and more ideologically diverse leadership, sixteen current and future Democratic representatives signed a letter pledging not to vote for Pelosi in an upcoming leadership election. This letter provoked an immediate backlash from liberal representatives and advocacy groups. Pelosi opponents were castigated for being moderates and a homogeneous group of ageist white men. Pundits sounded the alarm, alleging that a failed Pelosi leadership vote would harm the Democratic Party and even threaten Democratic control of the House.

The conflict only ended when potential Pelosi challenger Marcia Fudge, after a day of terrible press coverage, took a position on a voting rights special committee and endorsed the Democratic leader. Pundits interpreted this decision as the moment that Pelosi won the speaker’s gavel. But this episode will not easily be forgotten. The sixteen Democrats who publicly signed the anti-Pelosi letter will either be defeated on the floor or have to rescind their pledge. With the exception of Fudge, Pelosi’s opponents will also likely be sidelined in committee assignments throughout the next Congress.

Which side is right in this early Democratic leadership fight? Did the insurgents overplay their hand and underestimate Pelosi’s prowess as a leader? And, as advocacy groups have suggested with their scorched-earth strategy against the insurgents, should the liberal future Speaker be immune from future challenges?

The merits of the Pelosi challenge in the House were dubious in many ways. Fears that Pelosi would be an albatross for Democrats and a target for Republican ads eventually fizzled. Brett Kavanaugh, the Central American migrant caravan, and Trump’s proposal to ban birthright citizenship dominated many of the late ad buys. Pelosi was able to raise massive amounts of money, outspending her Republican opponents by tens of millions of dollars. As for her Democratic opponents, many of them had no coherent strategy against her and no committed challengers for the Speaker position. In…

Eric Medlin

I’m a writer interested in the intersections of history, ideas, and politics. I publish every week. www.twitter.com/medlinwrites