When Nancy Pelosi concluded her eight-hour immigration speech on Wednesday night, she was greeted with cheers by her Democratic colleagues. Republicans were cheering too.
Why? Because the GOP’s top strategists – up to and including President Donald Trump – are absolutely convinced that the higher Pelosi’s profile is nationally, the better Republican chances of minimizing their losses in the midterm election.
In the contested special election to replace disgraced former Rep. Tim Murphy, conservative groups have been airing ads seeking to link Pelosi to Democratic nominee Conor Lamb.
“Nancy Pelosi and Conor Lamb are still opposing your tax cut,” says the narrator in one ad. “Lamb called it a complete betrayal. And Pelosi said: This is Armageddon.”
In the Georgia special election won by Republican Rep. Karen Handel last year, Republicans, similarly, worked to turn the race into a referendum not on the Democratic nominee, but Pelosi.
“Every morning I wake up and I take a moment to be thankful that the Republican Party still has Nancy Pelosi because Nancy Pelosi is absolutely toxic,” Corry Bliss, who runs a Republican super PAC, told the Washington Times back in June 2017.
If this strategy rings a bell, it’s because Republicans have been pursuing it consistently since the 2010 election. In the runup to that midterm, Republicans relentlessly pounded on Pelosi (and newly elected President Barack Obama) as symbols of liberalism run amok.
Pelosi’s background – a wealthy liberal; representing a San Francisco area seat – made her the ideal symbol of everything lots and lots of rank-and-file Republicans hate about Washington (and Democrats).
In competitive district after competitive district in the 2010 and 2014 elections, Republicans would run some version of this ad: “(Fill in the blank candidate) may say he’s not a Washington liberal. But the first vote’ he’ll cast in Washington is for Nancy Pelosi and her liberal San Francisco values. Those aren’t our values.”
In the 2010 election alone, according to The Washington Post’s Paul Kane, Republicans spent more than $50 million in negative ads featuring Pelosi. That number has likely tripled over the last seven years.
Pelosi’s approval numbers are, perhaps not surprisingly, quite low. Less than 29% of people have a favorable view of Pelosi, according to HuffPost’s Pollster. That matches the most recent approval rating for Pelosi in polling by CNN – 29% favorable and 50% unfavorable in September of 2017. She had 37% approval in 2013.
Of late, Trump and his White House have picked up on the anti-Pelosi drumbeat.
“Nancy Pelosi – what she’s doing to this country,” said Trump at a tax speech in Cincinnati earlier this week. “And she’s gone so far left, and (Chuck) Schumer has gone so far left. Oh, I look forward to running against them.”
Speaking to congressional Republicans at their retreat in West Virginia earlier this month, Trump, as he has done several times recently, cited Pelosi’s comment that companies were handing out “crumbs” to their workers in the wake of the passage of the tax cut law. (Read this for the full context of the “crumbs” line.)
“She called it crumbs when people are getting $2,000 and $3,000 dollars and $1,000 – that’s not crumbs,” Trump said. “It’s a lot of money.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders has picked up on the anti-Pelosi drumbeat – zeroing in on the House Minority Leader’s less-than-enthusiastic facial expression when Trump called for bipartisanship during his State of the Union address.
“I think Nancy Pelosi looks like that all the time,” Sanders said on CNN’s “New Day.” “I think she should smile a lot more often, I think the country would be better for it.”
At issue for Trump and Republicans is the fact that Pelosi isn’t in charge anymore. Republicans are. And the most famous/infamous politician in the country is the Republican currently residing in the White House. Can they make Pelosi the centerpiece of the 2018 campaign even as Democrats are trying to do the same with Trump?
That’s an impossible question to answer right now. But what we do know is that Republicans are sure as hell going to try.