Obviously, Mr. Shuler is right, but he has virtually no chance of beating Pelosi. And, no Democrats have announced plans to run against her top deputies, Steny Hoyer of Maryland and South Carolina's James Clyburn. In fact, Pelosi even created a new leadership position for Clyburn, avoiding a potential showdown between the two men--one that might further erode Pelosi's support among members of the Congressional Black Caucus. So, when the new Congress convenes in January, the same old House Democratic leadership team will be in place.
Needless to say, Republicans are delighted. Ms. Pelosi is the most polarizing figure in American politics (President Obama runs a close second), and she's a godsend for GOP fund-raising and political strategy. Somewhere, Republican consultants are probably testing ads on focus groups, depicting Pelosi and her team as the main obstacles to a balanced budget and economic prosperity. Call Ms. Pelosi the political gift that keeps on giving.
But her rebound from this month's electoral shellacking also signals something else: the death knell of the moderate-to-conservative wing of the Democratic Party. Americans under the age of 40 may find this difficult to fathom, but once upon a time, there were Democrats who were in favor of a strong national defense, and equally conservative on social issues. For decades, they dominated the southern and western wings of the party, and you could find them in many northern districts with large numbers of Catholic voters. If names like John Stennis and Scoop Jackson ring a bell, then you actually remember the conservative branch of the Democratic Party.
So, what happened to them? Well, the GOP began targeting the South, and found a receptive audience for its (more) conservative principles. Democrats claim the "southern strategy" was a form of veiled racism, but that ignores awi couple of inconvenient facts. Republicans didn't begin making big strides in the Deep South until the late 1970s/early 1980s, more than a decade after the civil rights era.
And more recently, southern voters have elected Black Republicans to the House of Representatives in majority white districts in Oklahoma (J.C. Watts); South Carolina (Tim Scott) and Florida (Allen West). That doesn't exactly square with the image of the southern GOP serving as the last bastion of racism and discrimination.
Truth be told, the fate of moderate and conservative Democrats was effectively sealed by their own party, and its decades-long march to left-wing extremism. With the ranks of Blue Dogs decimated by the 2010 GOP tsunami, the House Democratic Caucus of 2011 will be more liberal than ever, one more reason that Nancy Pelosi will cruise to victory as minority leader. As a group, surviving House Democrats believe they lost because (a) their message wasn't communicated properly and (b) it wasn't liberal enough.
That's why Heath Shuler's challenge of Nancy Pelosi may represent the last gasp for Congressional Democrats with even the most moderate leanings. In the Pelosi wing of the party, there is simply no room for anyone who doesn't follow the socialist agenda. Mr. Shuler is hardly a conservative, but he's well to the right of folks like George Miller, John Lewis, and Steny Hoyer. For his troubles, he'll be drubbed in the leadership vote, and stripped of plum assignments by party leaders. We'll predict that Mr. Shuler will be a rather lonely fellow for the next few years.
And if that's not bad enough, Ms. Pelosi (and for that matter, President Obama) seem to have no regard for the damage they've inflicted as the state and local level. If you accept Tip O'Neill's axiom about all politics being local, then the Democratic Party is in serious trouble in states it once owned, like Alabama and Texas.
In a recent piece for The Weekly Standard, Fred Barnes detailed the collapse of Democrats in George Wallace's home state. As he writes, Alabama went "crimson" in this year's election, with Republicans capturing all statewide offices, taking control of both houses of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction, and winning six of the seven Congressional races. In Shelby County, a suburb of Birmingham, Republicans won all 39 races for county and state office. Thirty years ago, there wasn't a single elected Republican in the entire county.
To be fair, there are places in the country (California comes to mind) where the GOP faces similar problems. But demographic trends and population shifts favor places like Texas, Alabama and Florida, where Republicans have achieved political dominance. Meanwhile, Democrats in those states--and others--face an uphill climb just to reappear on the political landscape. And if they achieve that goal, their candidates still must contend with national figures who are political poison to local candidates.
That's why Mr. Shuler's leadership bid represents the last, fading gasp of Democratic moderates on the national stage. It will certainly fail, and in the process, push the party even more to the left. We can only wonder how many of the remaining Blue Dogs will become Republicans in the coming weeks, finding they have no future in their own party. And outside the Beltway, Democrats are becoming extinct in places they dominated for decades. Not that Nancy Pelosi cares. Places like Alabama and Texas are best viewed from the window of her Boeing 737 Business Jet, the same "ride" she'll be giving up in just a few more weeks.