Every time House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi appears on television Republicans smile. For all the chaos of the Trump administration, they think, we still have that.
Pelosi’s image screams “elitist” and “out of touch.” It suggests that Democrats learned nothing from the heartland earthquake that elected Donald Trump in 2016 — and that’s keeping his approval ratings above 40 percent.
Rep. Joe Crowley, long rumored to be Pelosi’s successor, had the potential to change all that. Despite serving 10 terms in the House and achieving seniority in his conference, Crowley’s face was far less familiar to American voters, which alone is a good thing. But it was more than that.
Where Pelosi (D-Calif.) conjures the late Tom Wolfe’s “social X-Ray” at an Upper East Side cocktail party, Crowley, 56, could be the umpire at a West Virginia Power minor league baseball game — where he could also sing the national anthem, one of his signature talents. Crowley is a moderate, blue-collar Democrat with the potential to speak to voters in disaffected white rust-belt communities who abandoned their Democratic Party roots for Trump’s populist GOP.
That was all erased Tuesday night. In a true election stunner, 28-year-old Democratic-Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez trounced Crowley in a Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district, sending shock waves through Democratic circles nationally. The Ocasio-Cortez win suggests that the Democratic Party has no intention of slowing its leftward march — or worse, that it is unable to. It may further suggest there’s no room in the party for the Joe Crowleys of the world anymore. That would be a real problem for Democrats.
Ocasio-Cortez pulled no ideological punches in her campaign message: She called for abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency; a federal jobs guarantee for every American; universal socialized medicine and tuition free public universities across America. In once rock-solid conservative areas of Queens and the Bronx, Ocasio-Cortez crushed the 20-year incumbent — who also happens to be the Queens Democratic Party chairman — by 15 points after being outspent at least 10-1.
There’s a more crass way to look at the Ocasio-Cortez win: She beat an old white guy in a district that’s now 50 percent Hispanic and just 18 percent Caucasian — the demographics simply caught up with Crowley. It could very well be the case.
But that’s the point: the Democratic Party has an old-white-guy problem, and Crowley’s loss will be acutely felt leading up to the 2020 presidential election. Someone other than Trump needs to be talking to the hundred million white males in this country, especially working-class men, if the Democratic Party is to have any hope of recapturing what once was its base.
If that person is Pelosi, fuggetaboutit, as New Yorkers like to say. Expect ear-to-ear grins from the Grand Old Party.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.