By Joshua Spivak
The opinions expressed are his own.
Even after the Democrats crushing defeat on Election Day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced that she wants to keep leading the Democrats as the minority leader. Despite some grumbling and complaints, the odds are very good that she has the job locked up. It may seem unusual, but Pelosi’s behavior is normal for the House. Moreover, the history and current membership of the House may make her reelection a certainty.
In the 20th century, the Democrats lost control of the House four times. The last time, in 1994, Speaker Tom Foley lost his reelection campaign. However, Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, the number two ranked Democrat, followed the traditional path up the ladder, and was immediately chosen as minority leader. When they lost the House in 1952 and 1946 Speaker Sam Rayburn took over as the minority leader, a pattern was started by Speaker Champ Clark when the Democrats were swept out in 1916.
This is not surprising. Democrats had control of the House for nearly two-thirds of the 20th century. The party maintained strong internal control of the leadership ranks — members rose up from whip to leader to speaker. Every Democratic speaker previously served as either majority or minority leader.
The party’s members have rejected attempts to break their line of succession. When John Murtha, with the considerable backing of Nancy Pelosi, tried to jump the line in 2006 by running for majority leader against Steny Hoyer, Murtha was crushed nearly two-to-one. Though there are exceptions — in 1976, a scandal meant the majority whip had no chance of moving up — but the battle for Democrats has traditionally been for the whip role, which itself has only been elected since 1986.
The Democrats have deposed lower ranking elected leaders like leader of Democratic Caucus and committee chairs, but no Democratic speaker or leader, either majority or minority, has been overthrown, though Jim Wright did resigned due to scandal.