Pelosi is right: It’s time to usher in a new era of Democratic leadership

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched a 1,000 headlines Thursday when she announced she would not seek reelection as Democratic leader in the upcoming Congress.

That declaration alone would have ushered in a new era for House Democrats after two decades under her leadership, but Pelosi also helped clear the decks entirely for a new, younger leadership team to take over. Not only is Pelosi leaving her post, so are her top deputies Reps. Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the number two and number three House Democrats, respectively.

Clyburn's statement celebrating Pelosi's tenure included a nod to the future as he pledged to assist "our new generation of Democratic Leaders which I hope to be Hakeem Jeffries, Katherine Clark, and Pete Aguilar.” Baton passed.

Regardless of whether House Democrats' leadership transition will proceed that cleanly (as it appears to be doing), the Democratic caucus now gets an entirely fresh start to elevate leaders of their choosing. They can take stock of the times, their needs, and elect a team they trust to chart a new course to the future.

True to her brand, Pelosi appears to be making a pitch-perfect exit. From shattering glass ceilings as the first female speaker to becoming an anti-Trump icon, Pelosi demonstrated steely resolve throughout 45's tenure, stewarded President Joe Biden's historic agenda through a razor-thin majority, and will now stick around to mentor an upcoming Democratic class.

Meanwhile House Republicans are already dissolving into utter chaos as they anticipate a majority with roughly the same number of members Pelosi counted during Biden’s highly productive inaugural years.

what a contrast: incoming GOP Speaker (maybe) will have 221 members in his caucus & it's widely acknowledged it will be an unmanageable shit show outgoing Dem Speaker had 221 members and passed so many significant pieces of legislation to improve lives thanks @SpeakerPelosi

— Joe Sudbay (@JoeSudbay) November 17, 2022

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Frankly, Biden, Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York should be enormously proud of their work and buoyed by the results of a midterm nearly everyone had predicted would result in a Democratic drubbing.

Though the outcome fell short of a Democratic sweep, Senate Democrats could still pad their majority while their House counterparts enter the next election cycle already within striking distance of reclaiming the gavel.

Biden, who had been pilloried for his low approvals, never became the drag pundits had ordained him to be. In fact, Biden arguably proved to be a net plus by repeatedly pledging to codify abortion rights while reengaging young voters with student debt cancellation, historic investments in fighting climate change, and moving toward decriminalizing marijuana.

If anything, the midterms strengthened Biden’s argument for running for reelection in 2024. But it's time to consider the possibility that Pelosi has got this right: It's time for a changing of the guard.

Just like his congressional counterparts, Biden outperformed expectations by a lot. He showed up in states where he could be helpful, such as Pennsylvania, while keeping a low profile elsewhere. He ultimately gave the Democratic base lots of reasons to get to the polls. And toward the end of the cycle, Biden closed on a message of GOP extremism, warning voters of the threat the party now poses to democracy and the fact that Republicans planned to cut Social Security and Medicare. In an era that is completely unpredictable and defies historic precedent, Biden navigated the turbulent atmospherics just about right.

And yet the president continues to seem bewildered by an unrecognizable political landscape that constantly cuts against his core and offends his sensibilities.

As The New York Times' Peter Baker wrote just before Election Day:

These are frustrating, even perplexing times for Mr. Biden, who according to confidants had expected the fever of polarizing politics to have broken by now and was surprised that it had not. The presidency he envisioned, one where he presided over a moment of reconciliation, is not the presidency he has gotten. He thought that if he could simply govern well, everything would work out, which in hindsight strikes some around him as shockingly naïve if somewhat endearing.

“In the old days, when I was a United States senator, we’d argue like hell with one another, disagree fundamentally, and go down to the Senate dining room and have lunch together,” Mr. Biden reflected to an audience in San Diego last week. “Because we disagreed on the issues, but we agreed on the notion that the institutions matter.”

“Well, the institutions are under full-blown attack,” he added. “I’m already being told, if they win back the House and Senate, they’re going to impeach me. I don’t know what the hell they’ll impeach me for.”

After the country narrowly escaped Trump's treacherous clutches, it was perhaps soothing to be led by a president so firmly rooted in a bygone era of shared commitments and institutional collegiality. Biden’s mere presence recalls a time when U.S. lawmakers almost universally considered America’s enemies without to be greater threats than its enemies within. And based on the midterm results, Biden clearly rose to the occasion even though it's an occasion that has dismayed him. Looking back over the arc of Biden’s presidential speeches, they were far more aggressive, forceful, and on point than he got credit for.

But as Pelosi noted in her speech, "for everything there is a season."

"Now we must move boldly into the future, grounded by the principles that have propelled us this far and open to fresh possibilities," Pelosi said.

Democrats have always been about moving boldly into the future while Republicans nostalgically cling to the past. A recent PRRI poll found that two-thirds of Republicans agreed with the statement, "Since the 1950's, American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the worse."

PRRI pollster Natalie Jackson called the 1950s question a "key predictor" of a person's support for Donald Trump and/or the Republican Party.

So as Republicans descend into crisis over who is the true leader of the party of yesteryear, perhaps now is a good time to consider which Democrats might emerge to lead the party of tomorrow.

The midterms have served as a proving ground for plenty of breakout Democratic talent that runs the spectrum from unabashedly liberal to battleground tested. Some campaigned in shorts and hoodies while others donned T-shirts emblazoned with the words, "my body, my decision." Taken together with some standouts from the 2020 contest, Democrats have a wealth of barrier-breakers in the making in terms of gender, religion, race, and sexual orientation.

The advantages of incumbency are massive, and there's certainly an argument to be made that Democrats stand a better chance of keeping the White House in 2024 if they stick with a president who is already in it. That’s the case that is ultimately Biden’s to make should he choose to do so.

But in 2024, Democrats could face anyone from the thrice-defeated Trump to a fresher face like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Either way, Democrats must live up to being the party of the future. That's what we expect of ourselves, and that's what America needs from us.

One way or the other, Democrats will emerge united to defeat an illiberal anti-democratic GOP that hopes to impose its 1950s values on a 21st century country. But for now, we should be exploring both the best message and best messenger to carry us forward. Biden proved to be that person in 2020, but whether he will reclaim that mantle in 2024 remains to be seen.

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Election Night 2022 was full of surprises—mostly for people pushing the last couple months of traditional media narrative of a "red tsunami." The problem is that Americans are not super into the GOP. Markos and Kerry have been saying the media narrative was wrong for months, and on Tuesday, Daily Kos and The Brief team was validated.


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