Despite an Election Day disaster - at least six House seats lost and potentially up to a dozen when all the votes are tabulated - Speaker Nancy Pelosi will likely fend off a challenge from a band of disgruntled Democrats and secure another term as leader.
With Joe Biden in the White House and Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader, though, she cannot fend off the reality that she’s been marginalized. Her craving for power may have been sated, but she will be relegated to a secondary role in achieving the new president’s agenda.
For President-elect Joe Biden, the fulfillment of his campaign pledges will run through the senator from Kentucky, assuming at least one of the two Republican Senate candidates win run-off elections in Georgia in January.
While Pelosi will continue to have a voice, it will be a muted one, unlike the megaphone she wielded for the past four years belaboring President Donald Trump and exercising what she was convinced was a brilliant political and campaign strategy.
Her strategy - campaign as the anti-Trump - crashed and burned in a spectacular fashion, an outcome predicted by vulnerable Democrats who warned of widespread discontent in their districts over failure to enact a COVID-19 relief package prior to the election.
They were left with little to brag about in the way of accomplishment, opening the way for Republican opponents to associate them with the radical themes pushed by the party’s left wing.
In a post-election caucus, angry Democrats turned their fire on Pelosi, blaming her and her team for failing to respond aggressively to accusations of turning the country toward socialism, de-funding police departments, phasing out the oil and gas industry with a resultant loss of thousands of jobs and appearing to side with violent protestors in the streets of major cities.
Even House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina blamed the de-funding law enforcement movement for harming Democratic candidates.
Pelosi offered a worn-out cliche defense: “we lost the battle but won the war.” That’s what losers say when they attempt to convince others they didn’t really lose. Historically, it hasn’t worked and it won’t mollify Pelosi’s critics, either.
The Speaker will also be put to the test by the very public and rancorous split in party ranks, pitting the small but exceedingly vocal band of progressives against the larger centrist bloc, each blaming the other for the poor election day showing and demanding a tactical change in strategy to more closely reflect their point of view.
It will be, though, Pelosi’s diminished stature and weakened influence that will be felt as the new Administration and Congress assume office in January.
Biden understands that whatever he desires - nominations, spending, social programs - can only be had by cooperation with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Biden is a classic centrist whose 47-year career in government was a model of compromise, seeking common ground and sharing in the credit. Even in his rather unorthodox campaign from the basement of his home in Wilmington, he resisted the siren call of the far left and he is committed to a moderate center/left Administration.
The Biden administration will rely on Pelosi to keep its more rebellious members under control while, at the same time, guaranteeing majority support for the Biden agenda.
Her role will be dramatically different from the one to which she’s become accustomed. She will be expected to loyally follow the Administration path rather than charting it, to shift from constant critic to buoyant cheerleader, and to be the dependable, reliable policy and party advocate.
Bluntly put, Biden needs McConnell more than he needs Pelosi.
The four years she jousted with Trump elevated her to a level higher than reached by most of her predecessors.
Unfortunately for Pelosi, she began to believe her own press clippings and became blinded to the reality that the fawning media attention ended up being an illusion.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at cgolden1937@gmail.