A bit of an odd piece by Mike Madden the other day asking who will be Minority Leader should the Democrats lose the House.
My bet? Nancy Pelosi. Yes, the last two Speakers did not survive their majorities; Foley was defeated, and Hastert walked away. Well, Pelosi, as Madden says, isn't going to be defeated for reelection. Will she walk away? One never knows, but I sort of doubt it, and while it's fruitless in my view to speculate about that sort of decision since there's really no way of knowing, I do think it's a good excuse to talk about what happens to the Democrats if they lose.
In 1994, the Democrats were utterly devastated by their loss. It came out of nowhere...perhaps by election day many of them knew what was coming, but after forty years I don't think any of them expected it as late as summer 1994. When it hit, it hit hard. I remember talking with a Democratic consultant in winter 1994-1995 who was wondering not whether Bill Clinton would be elected, but whether the Democratic Party would survive or not. Now, obviously, that was silly...but I do think that the 1994 landslide really shook up the Democrats in a pretty severe way (as did, I'd say, the 1980 election).
Let's say that the GOP wins 55 seats this year. Are House Dems going to blame Pelosi? I don't think so. I think they'll blame the Senate, to some extent. They'll blame Rahm, because that's his job. But more than anything else, they're going to blame circumstances; they're going to think that a big loss is essentially the natural result of a Democratic president plus a recession. Moreover, I don't think they're going to believe in a downward spiral; they're going to believe that they'll rebound in 2012, with Obama likely to be reelected and a chance for the Democrats to retake control of the House.
At least, that's my guess. Surely, they'll also be upset with Obama's communications strategy, and a variety of Members are going to find all kinds of fault with all sorts of decisions that Obama made this year and last. But I don't think the reaction is going to be shock and despair. Anger, certainly, and a lot of second-guessing, but not shock, and not despair. They'll have seen this before, and they'll know that it's a setback, not a new permanent GOP majority.
I should be clear...I don't think that the surprise and consequent hopelessness that Democrats certainly felt in the winter of 1994-1995 mattered very much, and I don't think it will be all that important that Dems will probably avoid it if they're defeated this November. After all, Bill Clinton did rebound. At best, the Democrats' funk might have hurt recruiting in 1995-1996 and therefore cost them a few seats; they lost eight Senators to retirement in 1996, which is quite a few. But had Foley been around in 1995, he might well have been dumped. Pelosi, I think, will be safe if she wants to remain the House Democratic Leader, and she's likely to believe that retaking the House in 2012 is a live possibility.
By the way, my best guess right now is that the Democrats lose closer to 30 seats than to 55 in the House. But that's just a guess, not a serious prediction.