The national politician is blasted for “enabling racism,” for “singling out of newly elected women of color,” and for causing “harm to immigrant families.” At a progressive convention in Philadelphia, the mere mention of the name provokes a chorus of boos, as critics decry attempts to “shame and silence the progressive women of color.”
Just another day of progressives attacking Donald Trump, right? Actually, no—these leftists are attacking Nancy Pelosi. Yes, the Democratic speaker was headlined as the “villain” by the progs at the Huffington Post. Of course, lefties continue to attack the 45th President, and yet now they have a new object of ire: the 116th Speaker of the House.
It might seem strange that Pelosi, a lifelong left-winger—her 2017 rating from Americans for Democratic Action was 95 percent—has become unpopular with left-wingers, and yet, strange as it may seem, by contemporary Democratic standards, Pelosi has become something of a centrist.
After all, she has resisted two new litmus tests of the Woke Left: the Green New Deal and the impeachment of Trump. Her argument against both ventures is political, not ideological; that is, the House Democrats don’t have the votes.
Indeed, in that realistic spirit, just last month, Pelosi led almost all of her Democratic members in supporting a $4.5 billion border funding bill that a handful of legislators on the hard left, led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, derided as a cave-in to the Trump administration.
AOC’s ornery stance triggered Pelosi. So on July 6, Pelosi told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that AOC and her allies had crossed a line and made themselves irrelevant, by voting against “our bill.” Added Pelosi, “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
Pelosi’s diss of AOC and her “Squad”—that is, fellow freshman Reps. Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Presley, and Rashida Tlaib—did not go unnoticed by the MSM. Sample headline: “Tensions Between Pelosi and Progressive Democrats of ‘the Squad’ Burst Into Flame.”
So for the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen a full-blown Twitter war, as Pelosi, joined by her allies in the Democratic establishment, squares off against the Squad and their allies in the activist base of the party—including many in the media.
For instance, Ryan Grim, who usually writes for the Intercept, published an opinion piece in the Washington Post arguing that Pelosi and her team were too old and too cautious to deal effectively with Trump, while by contrast the young ‘uns were ready to rumble; the headline read, “Haunted by the Reagan era: Past defeats still scare older Democratic leaders—but not the younger generation.”
Grim argued that top Democrats, still scarred by the defeats of the ’80s, are unnecessarily crouching in a “defensive posture” in the ’10s and, therefore, are “unable to lead.” Remarkably, Grim quoted Corbin Trent, Congressional spokesman for AOC, as saying, “The greatest threat to mankind is the cowardice of the Democratic Party.” (We might let those last words sink in—“greatest threat to mankind.”)
An additional flashpoint has been AOC’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti. A former Silicon Valley tech executive with plenty of access to money and organizing mojo—he helped found two activist groups, Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress—Chakrabarti is widely seen as the guiding force behind’s AOC’s rise. And yet he seems to seek out controversy all on his own as well; he was seen recently wearing a tee shirt emblazoned with the image of Subhas Chandra Bose, the dissident Indian nationalist who became a Nazi collaborator during World War Two. (Perhaps now we have a better sense as to why AOC seems to have such a tin ear about the Holocaust.)
And yet, extreme as he might be, Chakrabarti can’t be dismissed—at least not by Democrats. Why? Because he and his hard-left pals have proven that they can win contested party primaries. It’s well remembered that AOC came out of nowhere to win an upset victory in New York City last year, and yet, in fact, all members of the Squad were insurgents—none were the choice of their local party establishment. And yet they each won, and now they’re all in Congress, supported by legions of donors and activists.
As Pelosi herself has said many times, power is rarely granted, it must be seized. Interestingly, Omar said almost the exact same thing on Saturday: “We never need to ask for permission or wait for an invitation to lead . . . [there is] a constant struggle oftentimes with people who have power about sharing that power.”
Yet now that the Squad has seized power, it must be dealt with.
Of course, dealing with the Squad can include trying to crush it; Pelosi can read the polls: The Squad is not popular with the nation as a whole—and that unpopularity in swing districts puts her precious majority at risk.
And so, for lots of reasons, Pelosi and her senior colleagues are seeking to do the crushing. On July 12, Rep. Gregory Meeks, a veteran black Democrat from a Queens, New York, district, just a few miles from AOC’s turf, pushed back against the insurgent lefties; as he told the New York Daily News, “Primaries go two ways. If someone picks a fight with somebody else, you fight back.” In other words, if it’s to be a battle of primaries, then the Democratic establishment—including the 55-member Congressional Black Caucus–is capable of battling back.
And in the same Daily News article, an anonymous “Democratic leadership source” had this to say about AOC, The Squad, and Chakrabarti: “Justice Democrats in general are trust fund kids who are funding this with their parents’ money.”
Needless to say, these caustic comments were noticed. One of those Justice Democrats, Waleed Shahid, was tart in his tweeted response:
My dad worked two jobs most of his life, including as a parking attendant. My mom was a nanny and later became a proud union member working in public schools as a substitute teacher and teaching assistant until she had a stroke.
Meanwhile, Adam Jentleson, a former staffer for Sen. Harry Reid and a certified Democratic insider, questioned the wisdom of attacking the insurgents in such a provocative manner:
Truly bizarre decision by House leadership to go easy on Trump while declaring open warfare on caucus members who are advocating more aggressive accountability against Trump.
Responding to Jentleson, one fellow prog observed, “It’s not bizarre when you realize they are willing to kill blue wave momentum, and thus get Trump again, rather than cede any wins to progressives.”
And another tweeted:
The Democratic leadership is 1000% more focused on getting Chakrabarti fired—just so they can say they broke Ocasio-Cortez—than they were about investigating Alex Acosta or E. Jean Carroll’s rape allegation against Trump. This [bleep] is incredibly [bleeping] embarrassing.
On July 13, The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd returned to the subject of Pelosi vs. AOC. Clearly taking the Speaker’s side, Dowd wrote of AOC types:
The progressives act as though anyone who dares disagree with them is bad. Not wrong, but bad, guilty of some human failing, some impurity that is a moral evil that justifies their venom.
For good measure, Dowd quoted former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel—also a former House member—calling Chakrabarti a “snot-nosed punk.” And Dowd added these words of warning to her liberal readership:
The 79-year-old speaker and the 29-year-old freshman are trapped in a generational and ideological tangle that poses a real threat to the Democrats’ ability to beat Donald Trump next year.
Yes, it’s obvious that this Democratic infighting hurts Democratic chances next year. Too bad.
Yet even if Democrats should know better than to keep this up, it’s also hard to see how the infighting will be stopped. And that’s because the fighting, petty as it might sometimes seem to be, is actually about something larger—the future of the Democratic Party.
Indeed, the fact that there’s a 50-year age differential between Pelosi, 79, and AOC, 29, tells us that the Democrats’ power struggle will, if anything, grow more intense, as the prize of power—leading the House, being third in line for the presidency—hovers closer into view.
It’s a possibility, of course, that AOC’s career will be cut short by the same political sword that she herself has wielded—that is, being chopped in a primary. And yet it’s a biological and actuarial certainty that Pelosi’s career is coming to an end. And the fact that Pelosi’s top two lieutenants in the House Democratic leadership, Steny Hoyer and Jim Clyburn, are both in their 70s or 80s only underscores the tottering nature of the current lineup.
Of course, when Pelosi & Co. do pass from the scene, it’s no cinch that AOC & Co. will take over. Indeed, it’s possible that the current intra-Democratic combat will prove so polarizing that the entire Squad will be rendered toxically radioactive. As they say of political intriguing near the throne, “He (or she) who wields the sword rarely wears the crown.”
Most likely, the post-Pelosi Democratic leadership—whether in the majority or the minority—will default to someone comfortably middle aged. However, it’s worth recalling that there’s been a House speaker as young as 30—namely, Robert M.T. Hunter, back in 1839.
Indeed, as Trump himself has shown these past few years, the conventional wisdom has hit a rough patch—too much unconventionality. So perhaps, indeed, anything can happen on the Democratic side, too, and anyone, just about, can end up on top.
That’s why this Democratic game of thrones is being played so fiercely.