Well folks, we may have a race on our hands. After writing Friday about the need for a leadership shakeup, I’m hearing from sources that some in the Democratic house caucus agree that it’s time for a change from current Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and they’ve got someone in mind, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan. I spoke with one of the members urging Ryan to run and their thinking is that Ryan, who grew up in Youngstown and now represents the area in Congress, speaks the language of disaffected blue collar voters and is also the kind of young scrappy fighter who could go toe to toe with a President Trump. Youngstown also isn’t monolithically white. The city itself is 50-50 black and white so Ryan could be exactly the kind of guy to help put together a new multi-racial working and middle class coalition. Pelosi for her part has accelerated the vote on Minority Leader to later this week to try to quash the potential rebellion.
This rushed power play to vote on Minority Leader before anyone has a chance to consider their options is unacceptable. After President Obama leaves office the face of leadership in the Democratic Party will be the DNC Chair, the Senate Minority Leader and the House Minority Leader. A public debate is underway on who the right pick for DNC Chair is. We must also have a debate on House leadership. We are all still reeling from the horrifying election of authoritarian bully Donald Trump. Shouldn’t we have some time to consider who in our party is best positioned to offer compelling solutions to the American people, take the fight to Trump, and figure out how we can win again?
Look, the need for major reform in the Democratic Party is clear. If we were only dealing with the narrow presidential loss we just suffered, perhaps the case could be made for tinkering around the edges. But that is far from the only or even the biggest challenge we are facing right now. In most of the country, the Democratic party is irrelevant to governing. We have lost the House, lost the Senate and been thoroughly decimated at the state level. In fact, it is because our state losses were so severe that Republicans had complete control of the 2010 redistricting and likely put House control out of reach again until 2020. We cannot allow this to happen again and right now, that’s exactly the path we’re on. Republicans hold a trifecta, meaning control of the state house, senate, and governorship, in 24 states. If we continue on this track, during the 2020 redistricting they will be in position to put control of the House of Representatives out of reach until 2030. My toddler will be heading to college then! I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wait around that long.
“Some argue we need to embrace party unity above all else but unifying behind failure is insanity.”
Leader Pelosi was a successful legislative tactician as Speaker but without the presidency her role becomes dramatically different. She must now also lead on policy and serve as the national face of the party. Just look at how prominent Paul Ryan is and how influential his (heartless) policy blueprint was within the Republican Party. Is Nancy Pelosi really the right person to project the kind of inclusive, forward-looking, party of the common person image that we desperately need to project to voters across the country? I don’t think so. When I ran for Congress in 2010, a year when President Obama’s approval ratings hit their absolute low, do you know who my opponent wanted to tie me to even more than the unpopular president? It was Nancy Pelosi. The public sees Pelosi as the consummate beltway insider, a Washington and San Francisco elite who most Americans cannot begin to relate to. I understand that some find it painful to oust Pelosi after just suffering through the loss of the first female major party nominee for president but let’s be real, to keep Pelosi simply because of her gender would be tokenism at its worst. Sure we’ve suffered massive losses and the entire direction of the party has been rebuked under her leadership but we can’t pick a new leader because the leader we have is a woman? I’m a feminist through and through and that is ridiculous. We are insane if we just reinstall the same leadership and walk down the same path that has led us to national irrelevance as a party.
So could Congressman Tim Ryan offer the new direction the party needs? I think so. First of all, he knows how to win. Driving around Youngstown this year you saw campaign signs for two candidates all over the place: Donald Trump and Tim Ryan. In Mahoning County where Youngstown is located Hillary Clinton earned a lackluster 49 percent of the vote, Tim Ryan won 73 percent. Thousands of voters marked off Donald Trump and Tim Ryan on their ballots. Second, he’s found success using an economic message that appeals across race lines. Republicans would like you to believe that working class white voters cannot exist in the same party as working class minority voters. It’s a bunch of nonsense and Tim Ryan is proof. He’s found success by building a cross-race coalition in racially mixed Youngstown through an economic populist message. Urban Millennials may find a lot to like in Ryan, who is a Joe Biden-style Catholic boy, who was against bad trade deals before it was cool, but who has also authored books on mindfulness and the local food movement. Finally, Ryan would be a fresh face for the party but he’s also no newbie having served over a decade in the House through good Democratic times and bad.
Will he run? It’s hard to say. I’m told Ryan just may be frustrated enough at the lack of an economic message to take on the challenge but it certainly won’t be any easy one. Any attempt to move against leadership takes a whole lot of friends and a whole lot of courage. Now is not the time to go along to get along though and now is certainly not the time to simply tinker around the edges. If we want to win again we need people who can restore the party’s credibility as the champion of the common person, irrespective of race. Some argue we need to embrace party unity above all else but unifying behind failure is insanity. Also remember the Republican Party has managed to clean up in races across the country while having a big fight about the direction of the party. If we want to help the country navigate the massive economic transition we are undergoing and make sure that no one in our urban cores or rural heartland gets left behind, we need new leaders who aren’t afraid of radical ideas. Who’s ready?