Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) achieved one of the most remarkable comebacks in American political history when she re-took the gavel on Thursday after leading her party to crushing defeat in 2010.
So it was striking that her speech to the House was so unremarkable, filled with “unserious” boilerplate about transparency, “Dreamers,” and — of course — “climate change.”
She spoke about bipartisanship, but offered no real compromises, no proposals to bring both parties together.
That is because Pelosi’s real agenda is to replace Donald Trump in 2020 — if not before.
Throughout the midterm elections, Pelosi suggested that she had a plan for governing — but never revealed it. Nor did her party unveil an agenda. Republicans would never have been able to run on nothing. The media would have demanded to see their plan, and conservatives would have agitated for a 1994-style “Contract with America” — as they did in 2010.
It was understood Pelosi and her party were just running to oppose Trump — some through mere oversight, and some through impeachment.
(Indeed, several Democrats called for impeachment on their first day in office: “We’re gonna impeach that motherf**cker, exclaimed Michigan’s Rep. Rashida Tlaib, to cheers from a left-wing audience).
Perhaps it would have been risky for Democrats to run on a specific agenda, because their ideas are so unpopular. Whenever Trump talks about immigration, for example, Democrats try to hide.
There was no more embarrassing spectacle in recent months than the sight of Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) begging Trump, in full view of the press corps in the Oval Office, to take the debate about the border wall back behind closed doors.
Of course, there are also risks in running on nothing. Pelosi’s refusal to commit to a specific set of policies created a vacuum that has been filled by newly-elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) — or “AOC,” as she is now cleverly calling herself.
AOC’s plans for a “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All” are little more than pipe dreams. But they have the ring of authenticity to them: they are the socialist utopias previous Democrats pretended not to want.
Pelosi’s task will be to throw enough bones to the “resistance” caucus without actually doing anything that could provoke a backlash from the suburban districts that are the key to her new — and fragile — 18-seat majority.
She likely intends to repeat her strategy from the last time she led the lower chamber with a Republican president in office, tamping down efforts to impeach George W. Bush and to stop the Iraq War, even as Bush launched the “surge.”
She walked that line carefully in 2007 and 2008, hoping that a new Democratic president in 2009 — whomever it turned out to be — would provide the opportunity to enact the party’s full agenda.
And so it was: the moment that Obama took office, Democrats pounced, passing not only a near-trillion-dollar “stimulus” that went to pet projects and special interests, but also a bloated omnibus spending bill — and, of course, Obamacare, which still survives.
Similarly, Pelosi hopes to keep things simmering at a low boil in the House until the 2020 presidential election, hoping that in 2021 she will have the opportunity to put her stamp on the country once again.
That is why she accepted a four-year “term limit” on her speakership. Four years is enough to accomplish whatever she wants: two years of waiting, plus two years of frenetic legislation. Trump’s rapid progress in 2017-8, ironically, shows the way.
There is only one problem: unlike 2008, the White House is not an open seat in 2020, and Trump intends to fight.
To that end, he has a two-pronged strategy: first, adopting compromises that look reasonable to everyone except Democrats, such as a physical barrier along the border; second, provoking the “resistance,” who will make Pelosi’s balancing act difficult.
If she compromises, she will lose political support from AOC, Tlaib, and the impeachment caucus. If she refuses to compromise, she will place her party at risk of losing the moderate voters upon which Democrats’ hopes are pinned.
One can never count Pelosi out, but her term as Speaker could be half as long as promised.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.