Kevin Yoder has a secret weapon. I have seen it — or rather heard it — firsthand many times. The congressman from the 3rd District of Kansas — mostly Johnson and Wyandotte counties — has wielded it primarily to keep moderate Republicans like myself from straying too far left.
That weapon, simply summoning the name of Nancy Pelosi, is now less a secret after the recent special congressional election in Georgia. The unpopularity of the House minority leader was central to the Republicans’ strategy, and they spent millions of dollars attempting to link the Democratic candidate to her. Pelosi was a pincushion for the GOP. No one knows if that was the final straw or the deciding factor. In any case, the Republican won handily in what was supposed to be a much closer race in this moderate district. In the aftermath, Pelosi has been widely blamed.
Whenever Yoder and I discuss current issues, he always interjects Pelosi’s name, even if it is off-topic. A perfect example was the conversation we had before Yoder voted for the health care plan that passed the House. I told Yoder I strongly opposed the proposal. He then reminded me that Nancy Pelosi would be thrilled to see the bill fail. That was supposed to make me squeamish about my position, that somehow I was now allied with someone who is very unpopular among Republicans.
Yoder, like most Republican representatives in Washington, knows current polling inside and out. He knows Pelosi is reviled by Republicans. Only 14 percent approve of her.
That’s the only number you are required to remember to understand why Pelosi’s name is on the tip of Yoder’s tongue. He wouldn’t waste Pelosi’s name on Democrats in his district. He wouldn’t waste his breath uttering her name to conservative Republicans who will stand by him with unflappable loyalty. No, the Pelosi weapon is used on those Republicans who might drift into approval for a Democratic position or even a Democratic candidate. Those moderate Republicans are the kind who often voted for longtime moderate Democratic Congressman Dennis Moore to represent the 3rd District.
What I am about to say is not scientific. It is the gut speaking. But I am almost certain that the strong negative feelings for Pelosi have as much, or more, to do with her personality as her liberal policies. I wonder if it might be that Pelosi is perceived by traditional voters as a shrill, aggressive, pushy, brassy feminist woman. In other words, there might be some latent sexism at work. It is possible some of the same factors played a role in Hillary Clinton’s defeat last year.
For Democrats, the question is whether they want to admit that Pelosi is abhorrent to almost every registered Republican in America and not wildly popular among Democrats. The crossover vote from moderate Republicans, even with the growing unpopularity of Donald Trump lurking, is probably nonexistent with Pelosi casting a long shadow. Yet, to win a general election in moderate Republican-leaning districts like Yoder’s, the Republican crossover vote is critical for Democrats.
Taking off my Republican hat and simply stating what I believe to be sound strategy for Democrats, Pelosi must be dumped as the highest elected official in her party, even though she raised $141 million in the November election. Her staggering disapproval ratings may have offset all that money.
Yoder would disagree with my suggestion, I suppose. He would like nothing more than for me to shut up and let Pelosi continue at the helm, which then rubs off on his opposition. Pelosi is toxic. Whether it has anything to do with her persona or not, she is hurting her party. Democrats are almost guaranteed to go down to defeat in Republican-leaning districts, as long as Nancy Pelosi is the face of their brand.