The Nancy Party

Wake Up, Democrats. Ossoff Didn’t Lose This Race—Pelosi Did.

Brutal super PAC mailers and TV ads did one thing and one thing only: Warned Georgia voters that Jon Ossoff would be Nancy Pelosi’s puppet. And it wasn’t the first, or last, time.


Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

In the end, the high-profile special election in Georgia’s 6th District was a referendum on Nancy Pelosi, not Donald Trump. 

The numbers bear this out. According to The Washington Post's James Hohman, “Pelosi was a huge drag on Jon Ossoff. Internal GOP polling showed she had 98 percent name ID, was 35 points underwater.” 

There’s also this: Ossoff backed off Trump (for fear of offending Republicans he would presumably need), while Republicans were 100 percent committed to linking Ossoff to Pelosi. 

The Post’s Dave Weigel has a good look at some of the direct-mail pieces that hit Georgia mailboxes. They were pretty vicious. One mailer pictures Pelosi as a puppeteer who is pulling Ossoff’s strings. Another mail piece read: “Behind Jon Ossoff is Nancy Pelosi,” and featured the photoshopped image of Pelosi pulling off an Ossoff mask. 

It worked partly because Republicans vigorously committed to executing this strategy. But they settled on this messaging because they knew it would resonate. 

This raises the question about why Nancy Pelosi is still so toxic. 

We can’t discount the accretion of scar tissue and baggage that piles up when one has been turned into a boogeyman. Just as Hillary Clinton had a tough time overcoming decades of negative attacks directed at her, Pelosi’s brand has been tarnished, especially in Republican districts, for more than a decade now. That takes a toll. 

It’s also fair to say that the way people are promoted to leadership positions (long tenure, helping elect other Democrats, courting special-interest groups) lends itself to leaders emerging who represent safe districts. And people who represent safe districts tend to be less moderate. So, on the Democratic side, you end up with a liberal foil who exudes “San Francisco values” being a straight-out-of-central-casting villain who doesn’t play well in Peoria. 

The long-term danger for Democrats is that this is a vicious cycle that keeps them in the minority. It works like this: Nobody can internally oust Pelosi from her perch, because her fellow Democratic members (the ones who vote on leaders) are from districts just like hers. The Catch-22 is that Pelosi’s baggage prevents the election of the kinds of red-state Democrats who might someday be a large enough bloc to replace her. 

The last reason Pelosi was such an inviting target is that she’s not just a liberal; she’s a liberal woman of a certain age. Now it’s politically incorrect to admit this, but it seems that in much of the county, whether we’re talking Hillary or Pelosi, they come across as hectoring. What is more, this stereotype plays into policy concerns about the “nanny state,” etc. 

We can label this visceral dislike of them “sexist” if we want, but it seems to be that a lot of men and women alike are repelled by their style. To be sure, it is dangerous for me (as a dude) to note this, but it seems to be an observable phenomenon that liberals would do best not to ignore. 

Speaking of ignoring the problem, the last question is whether Democrats will address it. In the wake of Ossoff’s loss, I’m seeing calls for Pelosi to step down as leader. To be sure, much of this is what we might call “concern trolling.” Conservative Bill Kristol, for example, tweeted: “Single most effective thing Democrats could do to help their chances in 2018? Nancy Pelosi announces she’s retiring.”

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Just because it’s concern trolling doesn’t mean it ain’t true.