Strategic stupidity: By challenging Nancy Pelosi's power, "The Squad" will lose its own

Nancy Pelosi

There are still people on the right who not only believe that the election was stolen, but that it will all be reversed when Congress counts the votes on January 6 and Trump will, in fact, be inaugurated for a second term. The fact that court after court, federal and state, have thrown out case after case for a total lack of evidence of systemic voter fraud, the fact that Republican local and state election officials have vouched for the integrity of the election, to the true believers, is at best irrelevant. The fact that the Trump administration's own Department of Homeland Security has said the election was the most technologically secure in history is just more evidence of the "deep state" the tinfoil hats fear.

The Q-believers are invested in a cult - Trump's - not in the democratic order. So any outcome of the election that does not result in a victory for their cult leader is by definition illegitimate, tainted, even treasonous.

But a political cult with no grounding in reality and democracy does not only exist on the right. An equally fervent and equally cultish, if less numerous, faction exists on the American left. Preferring to call themselves 'leftists' rather than 'liberals' - for the very reason that liberals respect the democratic political process and recognize the reality of compromise - this faction too does not believe that anything other than their wettest of dreams can actually be a political reality. For them, I tend to prefer the term 'alt-left' in recognition of their disconnection from reality and disrespect for democracy and the term 'peacock progressives' for their utter disinterest in doing the hard work of legislation.

Groups like Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement, Democratic Socialists of America, and various other offshoots of the two failed Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns in 2016 and 2020 represent this view on the left, and they have - admittedly, with some success - executed an electoral strategy focused on taking out Democratic incumbents in deep blue districts and creating strife through the threat of deploying destructive power. Notably, the great majority of their venom is trained on Democrats and national Democratic leadership, incidentally the people they blame for defeating Sanders's candidacy both times. Their vision of the presidency is hardly different from that of Sidney Powell and Michael Flynn in that they, like the conspiracist right, believe that the president is an elected dictatorship and that the president (in this case, President-elect Biden) can accomplish everything they want through the stroke of a pen.

Recently, this faction has seen cracks within itself, with calls growing ever louder among a sub-faction to deny Speaker Nancy Pelosi re-election to the speakership in the next Congress, slated to begin on January 3, if she does not agree to forego all regular order in the House to bring to the floor a bill to enact single-payer health care, legislation that is doomed to fail. The intra-alt-left wound has been most publicly salted with a visible fight between the likes of Jimmy Dore, alt-left podcast personality, and Socialist New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC).

Shockingly, Ocasio-Cortez has been playing the role of the relatively reasonable legislator, pointing out to her fellow leftists that their side has no plan to replace Speaker Pelosi with another Democrat who would both pledge to bring to a direct vote single-payer legislation and will be able to muster the votes needed to capture the speakership. Without Pelosi, the speakership may more than likely fall into the hands of Kevin McCarthy, the leader of the Republican minority.

An absolute majority of the House is not required to gain the speakership in the House, only a majority of the votes cast. According to current Associated Press projections, Democrats will enter the next Congress with a slimmer, 222-seat majority, against the GOP's 211 seats (2 seats not yet called). That means a mere abstention by 12 Democrats would hand the Speakership over to the Republican minority.

It is in that light that the comments made on CNN's State of the Union by two incoming members of the alt-left "the Squad" caucus of the Democratic party refusing to commit to voting for Pelosi as Speaker create an extraordinarily irresponsible dynamic.

When asked by CNN's Dana Bash, Congressmembers-elect Cori Bush of Missouri and Jamaal Bowman of New York evaded the question of whether or not they plan on voting - as their very first votes in the House - for Pelosi as Speaker, saying that we will "find out." When asked what is holding them up, Bowman demanded votes on reparation, a federal jobs guarantee, and Medicare for All, but he wasn't fooling anyone. There is no groundswell on the alt-left for reparations for slavery, and in fact, Bernie Sanders - whom both Bush and Bowman supported in the Democratic primary - explicitly campaigned against reparations. A federal jobs guarantee has been mentioned on occasion on the alt-left, but these so-called progressives have screeched the loudest against the one Biden nominee who supports a federal jobs guarantee, Neera Tanden.

A single-payer health care bill - one that would hand the next Donald Trump the ability to do to health care what this one did to the Post Office - is the real target of the disruptive power play here. The alt-left has taken single-payer to state legislatures and voters again and again and lost every time. They also do not care to confront Republicans in swing districts, ensuring that they will never reach a majority in Congress that is constructively for their agenda. So they want to blackmail Speaker Pelosi into a doomed vote instead.

It should be noted that a single-payer law is not the alt-left's endgame. In fact, so far as I can tell, they are not even really interested in single-payer health care except to use it as a cudgel against Democrats. Their lack of interest in legislative coalition building - as evidenced by AOC's embarrassing loss on a committee assignment delivered in large part by House progressives - belie their public posture on health care as much as Rudy Giuliani's court transcripts on behalf of the Trump campaign belie his dramatic press conferences at places like Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

The alt-left, despite their grandiose claims, are not interested in policy so much as using policy purity to create exclusive internal clubs dedicated to gaming out scenarios that they fantasize can make them as destructive and powerful as the Tea Party is among the right.

The little revolt led by the alt-left's Rush Limbaugh-wannabe Jimmy Dore is, of course, destined to fail. Not a single person challenged Nancy Pelosi for the speakership when Democrats met to decide leadership in the next Congress, and Pelosi, above everything else, is a master vote counter. Whether Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman vote for her or not - and despite their little Peacock Progressive show on CNN, my guess is that they will - Speaker Pelosi will be re-elected as Speaker for what she has said will be her final term in the chair.

Once Pelosi is elected speaker without the support of the likes of Bush and Bowman, she will be even freer to make deals with centrist Democrats and moderate Republicans. In other words, their little stunt may just end up shooting the alt-left in the foot.

With Biden's presidency and a more closely divided Congress, the climate will be already more conducive to bipartisan dealmaking and compromise, and the power of those willing to compromise - e.g. the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House and the Senators who came together to shape the latest coronavirus relief negotiations - will increase as Washington loses a most unpredictable, self-serving president and gains a selfless public servant dedicated to finding common ground in the Oval Office. Cross Nancy Pelosi on the Speaker vote and she will be free to pay even less attention to "The Squad" than otherwise.

Challenging Nancy Pelosi's speakership is the worst mistake "The Squad" can make, and as someone who wishes to see this group toil in deserved obscurity, I do hope they try it.