The news that Democrats have just selected Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi to continue as House Minority Leader has led a number of commentators to note her continuing unpopularity. Blogger Nate Silver, for instance, recently came up with a column titled “Is Pelosi America’s Most Unpopular Politician?”
There is no denying that Ms. Pelosi is very, very unpopular. This is old news, and relatively boring stuff.
What is more interesting is exploring how Ms. Pelosi became one of the least-like politicians in America.
When Democrats came roaring to take control of Congress in 2006, Ms. Pelosi was a favorite Republican target. Conservative commentators liked to warn Americans about how extreme to the left Ms. Pelosi was. And the House leader was quite an inviting target: a congresswoman from a hotbed of American liberalism, who did not look good on television, and who occupied an inherently unpopular position (quick: name one House speaker who’s ever had positive approval ratings).
These attacks continued throughout her term in power; indeed, they continue to this very day. Republicans were quickly able to succeed in making Ms. Pelosi as disliked a figure as possible amongst conservatives. It was not hard, especially given Ms. Pelosi’s inherent liberalism.
But what really killed Ms. Pelosi’s approval ratings was the fact that Democrats declined to defend her. Ms. Pelosi got punched and punched and punched, and Democrats never bothered to punch back. Take, for instance, an everyday occurrence in cable news: a Republican commentator blasts Ms. Pelosi for being an extreme liberal out-of-touch with mainstream America. If this happens, one almost never sees the Democratic counterpart arguing that Ms. Pelosi isn’t out-of-touch. This is quite different from what happens, for instance, when a Republican commentator attacks President Barack Obama.
Even Ms. Pelosi herself didn’t bother to defend her reputation. Instead, she spent her time passing laws Republicans hated and making the life of the Republican minority miserable. Ms. Pelosi was quite good at doing this; indeed, her skills at whipping the Democratic caucus rival those of the legendary Lyndon Johnson.
In not bothering to defend Ms. Pelosi, Democrats calculated that her unpopular approval ratings did not really matter; they would not affect the mid-term or presidential elections. Most probably don’t like Ms. Pelosi anyways.
The correctness of this calculation is almost impossible to prove. The Democratic Party’s good results in 2008 would indicate that Ms. Pelosi’s unpopular ratings had little effect. Their bad results in 2010 would indicate the opposite.
Whatever the truth, one can be fairly certain that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi will continue doing her best to make Republican lives as miserable as possible.