Should Nancy Pelosi Jump into the Presidential Race?

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

As we watch the casting call rollout for the 2020 presidential extravaganza which for the first time in our history may feature more women than men one is missing.

That person is House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who is attracting as much attention these days as President Donald Trump—and he may be the principal reason.

Her entry is a tantalizing thought, but the odds are about as good as a bet that the wall will get fully built!

In what could be a precursor to a duel that will probably never take place, Pelosi stands alone as the one individual in Washington who has shown the gumption to back Trump up against the wall (pun intended).

That has won Pelosi both more fans and even more foes who have painted the indomitable San Franciscan willing to go to the mat with the best of them in defense of her liberal Bay Area values as enemy #1.

But these views of the Speaker also symbolize the tough fight ahead which a half dozen women candidates will have if they cannot temper their left-leaning positions on various issues that are making many voters uncomfortable.

These include Medicare for All, loss of private insurance, free college tuition, open borders for immigrants, trade deals that could lose jobs and a Green New Deal without limits, just to name a few.

Some of these Trump converts reside in what used to be reliably Democratic bastions such as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan which by one theory cost Hilary Clinton the election.

Whether true or not, these are strong blue collar, industrial states where Trump had significant attraction, are certain to be in play once again, and Democrats will need to come up with a nominee that has broad appeal to capture them.

And that appeal must include millions of voters in southern and western states with large black and minority populations which could be crucial in a close race.

In some respects, the leader of the House who is elected by a majority of representatives from every region has, in effect, run a national campaign. Pelosi has come out a winner in several of them with impressive results.

Despite her reputation, Pelosi is not the fire brand liberal that a few of the front running candidates such as Elizabeth Warren exemplify and which very vocal elements of her party seem to prefer.

Of course Pelosi was not trying to convince the other sides members and running for House Speaker is strictly an inside affair that favors candidates who have done plenty of favors for those whose votes they must garner.

Still, Pelosi has been forced to pit her considerable skills against the one man the Democrats may have to beat, and she has so far made a strong showing.

History proves that if a woman candidate is going to prevail she will have to meet standards and expectations that have been doubtless unfairly set much higher than those typically assigned to their male opponents.

In fact some of the very qualities that have endeared male candidates to the voters such as aggressiveness, self-righteousness, immodesty and manipulative behavior have proven fatal to women contenders. Testosterone only works for men.

However, the very reasons that might compel Pelosi to be drawn to a presidential run argue against the idea.

The Speaker, and especially one this adept, can often exert power second only to the president as can be seen in the current standoff over the wall where she forced Trump’s hand on the issue of another government closure.

Whatever the spin, he has conceded more than the Democrats and Pelosi has had as much to do with it as anyone.

It is more than likely that Pelosi will have more occasions to show why some observers have labelled her regaining of the Speakership “Trump’s worst nightmare.”

Strong speakers can singlehandedly thwart the will of an uncooperative president and do so with near impunity if they have the backing of their delegation and have mastered the rules of the game.

Pelosi, who is also an accomplished debater and legendary fund-raiser, would be a formidable opponent if she chose to run and would easily enjoy the highest name recognition.

But the qualities that have brought her such success could also work against her if she decided to swap offices and if she were to get into the mix and the Democrats lose anyway, much of the blame would land on her shoulders.

Only one House Speaker ever became president. That was James K. Polk from 1845-1849. After him the most recent major party Speaker to run for president was James G. Blaine who lost to Grover Cleveland in 1884.

The leading women candidates seeking the highest office are all Senators from heavily Democratic states—New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota and California.

To date only 16 members of the upper chamber made it to the Oval Office and only three, Warren G. Harding, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama moved directly to the White House—none women.

Former governors far outnumber them and Vice Presidents who move up by election are a rarity. George H.W. Bush made the grade in 1988. The only one before him was Martin Van Buren in 1836, Pres. Andrew Jackson’s Veep.

Of course the current president has never held any office.

So if, as expected, Pelosi makes no plans to join the current field of hopefuls which woman, has the best chance of grabbing the trophy assuming they will face some stiff male competition?

If one becomes the party’s nominee she will have to be plenty smart but not pontificating, accommodating but not subservient, assertive but not confrontational, persuasive but not intimidating, pragmatic but not dogmatic, assured but not stand-offish, principalled but not self-centered, friendly to all but ready to take off the gloves when warranted and capable of quickly recovering when things go bad.

Most of all she must be likeable and infuse voters—and not just her most loyal partisans— with the confidence that she can win.

In other words she might need to be—well—a lot like Nancy Pelosi.

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