There’s zero question whether Pelosi can get the support to be the leader of the House Democratic caucus. But that’s not the question. Because of the peculiarities of how the House elects leaders, the Democrats need close to unanimous support for their leader for her to become Speaker. That means that between ten and twenty members can block Pelosi from becoming Speaker, even if she has overwhelming support from within her caucus.
The other part of the equation – and I think this is the key to Pelosi’s strength – is that she doesn’t just have opponents from the right of the caucus, mainly midwestern moderates. She also has a lot of opponents on the left of the caucus, members who are more ideologically to the left, more anti-establishment. Can those factions agree on a new leader? That’s hard to figure since they’d each like a leader that looks and thinks like their faction of the party.
Which brings us to yet another point. Let’s say Pelosi goes down to defeat and you have an open leadership contest which is won by Rep. X. Do the losers in that contest, the supporters of Rep. Y, support Rep. X in the floor vote? They basically have to, almost all of them, or else that person can’t become Speaker. Which is to say that they have to do what the anti-Pelosi faction now refuses to do, vote on the floor of the House for the candidate they voted against in the leadership vote. This kind of parliamentary blackmail can easily spin out of control.
The best argument for a generational change in leadership is not the absolute age of the top three caucus leaders: Pelosi (78), Hoyer (79), Clyburn (78). It’s rather that they’ve held the collective reins for so long that they’ve kept a generation of potential leaders who aren’t terribly young themselves – men and women in their 40s and 50s – from gaining the kind of experience and track record they’ll need to take over in the future. That is part of the present problem. There’s no tested person really up for the challenge.
I continue to see a bunch of arguments amongst Democrats and progressives about whether or not Pelosi should stay, but I have yet to see any real, convincing plans put forward by opponents of Pelosi as Speaker for what comes next if she is ousted.