Outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced that she will retain leadership of the House Democratic Caucus as minority leader in the incoming Congress. The unusual announcement forces her top lieutenants to fight amongst themselves for whatever other positions remain.
The announcement is questionable in light of Pelosi’s disastrous term, leading House Democrats from total dominance to crushing defeat in less than two years. Traditionally, a party leader who fails so completely in their most basic partisan duty resigns after electoral defeat. But not Pelosi. Her base among party liberals remains loyal, and Pelosi’s desire to maintain control is undimmed by failure or dishonor. Pelosi will probably not be challenged for minority leadership and, even if she was, she would probably win.
It remains to be seen if Pelosi’s autocratic and self-centered leadership style will continue in the minority. As House Speaker, Pelosi had multiple tools to maintain discipline and suppress dissent within her caucus. Many Democratic back-benchers complained quietly about Pelosi’s authoritarian and even petty approach. But because of her power to strip important perks such as committee chairs for dissenting members, few took their complaints with Pelosi into public, even after she made it clear that Democrats from swing districts were expected to maintain the party line even when doing so might cost them their seats (as it did on Tuesday). As minority leader, Pelosi’s ability to maintain such suicidal levels of party discipline may be greatly diminished.