“The brand has been damaged,” agrees Ryan. Rebuilding, he feels, will require a fresh message and fresh messengers.
But the rebels aren’t kidding themselves. Unless Pelosi steps down voluntarily, they are unlikely to rally enough support to forcibly remove her. (Experience has its upsides, and Pelosi has her fans. Even critics praise her legislative and fundraising prowess.) For her part, the leader has made clear that she has no intention of going anywhere. The Thursday of the Rice-Ryan-Moulton huddle, Pelosi publicly mocked the in-caucus tensions.
“I think I’m worth the trouble,” she quipped to Capitol Hill reporters. As for her discontented troops: “When it comes to personal ambition and having fun on TV, have your fun. I love the arena, I thrive on competition, and I welcome the discussion.”
So even as Rice & Co. try to figure out ways to dislodge Pelosi before the midterms, they are also working to ensure that, at the very least, they are in a position to shake things up afterward.
Ryan, for instance, is one of a trio of House Democrats (along with Michigan’s Dan Kildee and Kentucky’s John Yarmuth) backing the People’s House Project, a new political group aimed at de-Pelosifying the caucus one new member at a time. “We’re working with candidates in districts that may not exactly be the target of the D-trip,” says Ryan, referring to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s official campaign arm. “They may be in tougher districts.” (Read: Not the usual urban, coastal strongholds.)
The group’s founder, former MSNBC contributor Krystal Ball, has suggested that running under the banner (and with the backing) of the People’s House will give candidates a way to distinguish themselves from (i.e., run screaming from the out-of-touch, culturally elite image of) the national party establishment. The hope is that these folks will be much harder for Republicans to lash to Pelosi.
It also means that People’s House candidates who win next November would not automatically be beholden to the current House leadership, thus chip, chip, chipping away at Pelosi’s grip on the caucus.
If Democrats can make solid gains next year with candidates not bound to Pelosi, says Rice, “we’re looking at new leadership right there.”
Meanwhile, as the rebels see it, the growing public discussion about the need for a new start and fresh perspectives itself sends a message to both candidates and voters. The public needs to understand that, at the very least, post-2018 there will be change, says Rice.
“The conversations are continuing,” she tells me. “Every day there’s progress.”