At his contentious town hall meeting held in Amesbury recently, Seth Moulton compared the now nearly dead rebellion against Nancy Pelosi to the Conservative Party (!) intra-party coup against Maggie Thatcher that was successful in bringing down Thatcher. While just being an odd choice of analogy to begin with, it is also reveals what Moulton got wrong in his attempt to bring Pelosi down. This requires just a bit of history. . .
By 1990, the year the Tories brought down their most electorally successful leader in the modern era, Thatcher has become the deeply unpopular character that, even in death, she still remains in vast swaths of Britain. Against the advice of her own Chancellor of the Exchequer, she introduced the Poll Tax, which provoked fierce opposition in the streets and betrayed her own image of a tax-cutter (in fact it did amount to a tax cut, just for the upper-middle and upper classes). This was coupled with the fact that Thatcher herself had seen her own ego become outsized – provoking Europe, provoking the rank-and-file, provoking her own once devoutly loyal cabinet. Ultimately, this led to the resignation first of the Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, and in much more dramatic fashion, the Foreign Secretary, Geoffrey Howe. Howe had been, at one time, Thatcher’s most trusted minister, but in a speech before Parliament explaining his resignation, he essentially took an axe to Thatcher’s leadership, prompting a vote of no-confidence and a leadership election. Thatcher, though, was so cut off from her backbenchers that she didn’t believe in the strength of the impending coup. Instead of phoning and reassuring those backbenchers, she went to Europe, confident her party would retain her. Her challenger was Michael Heseltine, himself a member of her cabinet, and a man of heft – someone that “made sense” to lead the country in the eyes of just enough Tory MPs. Thatcher won the first round ballot, but not with enough votes to prevent a second round vote (she was just four short). She resigned shortly thereafter and Heseltine eventually gave way to John Major.
So how does this compare, as Moulton claimed it did, to the plot against Pelosi? Beyond it being an inner party coup against a woman who has been in leadership for over 10 years, it really doesn’t. Pelosi is, by name, unpopular when polled – but so is Mitch McConnell, and the Republicans aren’t replacing him anytime soon. Unlike Thatcher, Pelosi is still widely popular amongst her colleagues. Unlike Thatcher, Pelosi keeps in close touch with her backbenchers and knows their districts, their needs, and their wants. Unlike Thatcher, the key policy of the day, healthcare for Pelosi versus the Poll Tax for Thatcher, is a net positive for Pelosi: people rebuffed Trump at the polls, yes, but they also made clear their vote was also to protect the ACA. And, most critically, unlike Thatcher, Pelosi’s critics have amounted to a hodgepodge of centrist Members and freshmen lawmakers. There isn’t anyone involved that had the same comparable stature of Lawson, Howe, or Heseltine. The mood is also clearly moving away from how Moulton envisions the party – his outreach and messaging to the left of the party has been, at least publicly, virtually non-existent.
I think Seth can bounce back from this, but it has been a very bad and naïve demonstration of politics. His call for new leadership should not go entirely unheeded – there are many capable Members of the Democratic caucus that ought to be elevated. But despite his own personal bona-fides (and his service to the country is undoubtedly impressive and something I, at least, am personally thankful for), Moulton may have overrated his own personal ability to whip against one of the great masters of the modern U.S. Congress. And it seems to have begun with his own misreading of history.