Immediately after the 2018 midterms, the Democrats opposed to Nancy Pelosi returning as speaker of the House started talking a VERY big game.
Asked how confident he was that the anti-Pelosi Democrats had enough votes to keep her from the speakership, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton, a leading face and voice of the Pelosi resistance, told reporters he was "100% confident."
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"A high-profile critic of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi signaled on Monday that he is seeking to hold negotiations with her about changes to her leadership team, a development that makes her ascendancy to the speakership likelier as her opponents continue to struggle to recruit a challenger.
"The decision by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) to shift his attention from Pelosi — by far the front-runner for the speakership and currently running unopposed — to potential discussions over the lower-ranking positions of House majority leader and House majority whip underscored Pelosi's strength and the desire of her critics to reshuffle the leadership even if she holds the gavel."
Let's be very clear about one thing right at the start: Moulton doesn't try to negotiate for peace if he thinks he's winning the war. He negotiates for peace because he knows the war is lost.
And any clear-headed analysis of the last 10-ish days since Moulton made his "100% confident" boast makes clear that the Massachusetts Democrat is simply reading the writing on the wall. Consider:
- Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge, who was seen as a potentially formidable challenger to Pelosi, announced she wouldn't challenge the California Democrat. (On a VERY related note: Pelosi announced that Fudge would serve as the chair of a subcommittee on election security in the 116th Congress.)
- New York Rep. Brian Higgins, who signed a letter opposing Pelosi last week, announced that he would, in fact, vote for her as speaker. (On a VERY related note: Higgins said he had secured a pledge from Pelosi to prioritize an infrastructure bill in the next Congress.)
- Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch, another Pelosi detractor, said if no Democrat runs against her for speaker -- and no one has announced -- he will vote for her.
For people who have watched -- and bet against -- Pelosi over the years (and I was once very much one of them), this all feels familiar. She didn't become the first female speaker of the House by simply being a nice person who raises lots of money for her colleagues. She became the first female speaker by understanding power and how to wield it. Neutralizing Fudge with a prime appointment on an issue the Ohio Democrat cares about is just such a master stroke. And once Fudge was gone, the prospects of even a marginally competitive challenge to Pelosi effectively disappeared -- turning opposition to her into the political equivalent of charging at windmills.
Faced with such a non-starter, Moulton -- as well as other members of the Pelosi resistance -- are doing what politicians do best: Finding a way to make lemonade out of lemons.
So Moulton goes public with his plan to negotiate with Pelosi as a way of trying to create leverage against her to throw one of the people below her -- Steny Hoyer of Maryland or Jim Clyburn of South Carolina -- over the side.
"Leader Pelosi wants to boil this down to a personal argument, but this is so much bigger than her," Moulton told the Post. "It's about the entire, stagnant three-person leadership team and having a serious conversation about promoting leaders who reflect the future of our caucus."
Riiiight. Except that 10 days ago, Moulton was bragging that he and his fellow anti-Pelosi forces had the votes to keep Pelosi from the speakership. Not to keep Hoyer from serving as majority leader. Or Clyburn from serving as majority whip.
This sort of goalpost moving is what defeat looks like -- whether Moulton wants to admit it or not.