The 2018 midterms were full of the classic back-and-forth partisan rancor Americans have come to expect from their representatives. This cycle, however, the Republicans honed in on a new Democratic “boogeyman” to rally against. Like last time, this boogeyman is a woman.
For years, Hillary Clinton bore the brunt of attacks from Republicans, which reached its loud, and often absurd, peak during her 2016 presidential bid. Clinton, though, was largely quiet throughout the 2018 midterm elections, leaving the GOP without its usual target. No matter — she was quickly replaced by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the former House speaker and current Democratic leader. With the Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives, Pelosi has once again earned the nomination of Democrats to become House speaker.
But opposition to Pelosi’s return can be found among both parties. As the midterm cycle waned, Republicans across the country ran advertisement after advertisement reminding voters that a vote for Democratic candidates meant putting the 78-year-old San Franciscan back on top of the House. Democrats in competitive districts all but abandoned Pelosi, threatening to withhold support if they were elected.
It makes sense that Republicans dislike Pelosi. She is, after all, the epitome of progressive initiatives led by former President Barack Obama, particularly initiatives from his first two years in Congress, when the Democrats had large majorities in both the House and Senate.
During one of the most impressive careers in House leadership, Pelosi has demonstrated an extraordinary ability to wrangle votes from members. Her position as speaker from 2007 to 2011 allowed for the creation and passage of landmark legislation that some Democrats currently chiding her, such as Reps.-elect Max Rose (D-N.Y.) and Joe Cunnin (D-Okla.), ran to defend. While Obama often gets the credit for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pelosi was the major operating force who pushed it through the House, which happened only by the narrowest of margins — 220 in favor to 215 against.
Any Democratic successes that came through the House since Pelosi became the party’s leader in 2003 have, in short, been a function of her political expertise. She’s a skilled compromiser with the experience that a junior member of the chamber just can’t offer.
Yet political figures of late have gone beyond expressing their distaste for Pelosi. So why are politicians, some from her own party, attacking her now more than ever before?
Pelosi is a woman in an era in which female political figures are viewed negatively for speaking out. It’s no surprise, then, that as one Democratic woman has faded out of Republicans’ crosshairs, Pelosi has been dragged into it. The gender gap in the United States has never been bigger, and during what some have called the “Year of the Woman,” the GOP needed as many males to turn out to the polls as possible. What better way to do so than by using sexist dog-whistle politics, such as referring to Pelosi as “tired and old?”
And the overwhelmingly white and male Democrats who have jumped aboard the anti-Pelosi train would do well to remember that the health care laws they were elected to defend were passed by Pelosi in the first place. Maybe they’ll realize she knows quite a bit about governing, considering her more than 30 years of experience.