The first important event of the 2020 presidential cycle will not take place in Iowa or New Hampshire. It will not be the first round of fundraising reports next spring or spikes on the applause at the first few calls for prospective Democratic candidates. Instead it will unfold in the nation's capital in the test of will between the leader of the Democratic-controlled House and President Trump.
That's why Nancy Pelosi, the current House minority leader and former House speaker. She was the star of the Republican ads during the election. She is said to be a toxic political figure to the GOP base. She is also a tough and shrewd politician and a skilled legislator who led the party to victory last Tuesday.
Many Democratic candidates have moved away from the campaign, however, not to support their term as Democratic leader. She mostly ignored that during the campaign, urging candidates to do whatever they needed, but to "just win, baby," as she put it at an appearance at Harvard's Institute of Politics in October.
Her post-election moves have signaled no concern that she will not be elected speaker. The day after the election, she held a news conference immediately after the President's encounter with the White House Press Corps. She followed that with a prime-time interview on CNN and with steps and announcements about House business. She continues to be a Democratic Party that now has power to confront the president.
Pelosi plays her cards close. The moment of truth for those in her party who would like to see her as speaker will come soon. As early as this week there could be a better indication of how the threat to the bidder is. At this point, there is no challenger who has stepped forward, only names bandied about. Her allies continuous to express near-confidence that she will prevail. The coming days will reveal whether they are underestimates the new leadership in a new House.
No matter the leadership elections, what the Democratic leaders are doing in the 2020 2020 presidential nominee of winning the White House, or it could be diminished them and give Trump a head start on reelection. There is precedent for the latter that provides for the new Democratic majority in the House.
At this moment 24 years ago, Newt Gingrich was the king of Washington, the giant killer who had ended 40 years of Democratic rule in the House. The Georgia Republican had the whole of center stage, in Washington and nationally, with power and a Contract that he was determined to implement. Then President Bill Clinton was a politically battered and diminished figure in the aftermath of that 1994 midterm election.
A year later, things looked far different. Gingrich got drawn into a standoff with Clinton over the budget, which resulted in a government shutdown, for which he and his party got most of the blame. He was caricatured in a New York tabloid as a crybaby after complaining about Air Force One. His speakership took a hit, and the collateral damage turned out to be Bob Dole's hopes of defeating Clinton in the 1996 election.
Dole, then the Republican leader in the Senate and the front-runner for the GOP nomination, found himself through the whole of 1995 as a hostage to Gingrich and the rambunctious House Republicans. He was strapped in for the ride with Gingrich and had no ability to separate himself.
By the early spring of 1996, the Democrats launched an ad blitz linking Dole and Gingrich that left a permanent impression on the electorate, the "Dole-Gingrich monster," as Scott Reed, who was Dole's campaign manager in that campaign, called it.
"It was the demonizing of Newt, and Newt taking that bait," he said. Reed suspects Trump will find something different in Pelosi, if she is the speaker starting in January. "I think Pelosi is a lot smarter and more polished and understanding of the job," he said. "She's had the experience in the job, and she understands the back and forth with the President and the White House."
Pelosi has set aside an agenda for House Democrats, starting with a package that would include reforms in campaign finance, voting rights and government operations. The agenda includes health care and infrastructure. On health care and infrastructure, the president might be prepared to deal with the Democrats, a mutually beneficial.
But it's the Democrats' agenda that will complicate the relationship with Trump, as it's made clear in his post-election news conference. House Democrats will have the power to exercise oversight of the administration. How far and how aggressively it goes is the question that will set the tone for the next year, perhaps more. Trump warned or total if Democrats go down that road, without specifying his red lines.
Pelosi has been careful and cautious in her comments about the investigative powers, especially on the question of opening an impeachment inquiry. She has been in regular communication with the lawmakers who will oversee the key committees. She has said that there should be no effort to impeach a president for political reasons.
If special counsel Robert S. Mueller III comes forward with a report that involves crimes or constitutional violations, the House almost certainly would move to impeach. But it is the gray area in between oversight of the government of the Democrats in the House.
What no one can predict at this point is Pelosi, if she is a speaker, and other top Democrats will feel from a grass roots base to see the president's duties on directly. Republicans with experience on Capitol Hill predict that the pressure on the president could be overwhelming.
One said that many Democrats say that they had been shut down and the government was not a good idea. "Then they got 5,000 calls a day from constituents and they did," he said. "It's hard to think that Democrats are not going to be captive to that."
Pelosi knows her caucus, which has been her greatest strength as leader. But the midterm election was a reminder that the party's grass-roots supporters now have significant power. <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> <br> Democrat in the coming months. As one Republican legislator said of Pelosi, "She has to avoid becoming a foil in Trump's reelection bid."
First, however, she must be a challenge within her own ranks. Her allies say she is ready for these challenges, from within the White House. They will receive the biggest tests of her long career.