Heath Shuler To Democrats: It’s Time To Change Quarterbacks

Former Washington Redskins Quarterback, and current Congressman, Heath Shuler has launched a quixotic campaign against Nancy Pelosi for House Minority Leader.

North Carolina Congressman Heath Shuler announced today that he would be challenging Nancy Pelosi for leadership of the Democratic caucus in the new House Of Representatives:

North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler said Sunday he would challenge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the leadership of the Democratic minority in the next Congress although he acknowledged that he does not have the votes to win.

“We’ve just come off the largest … loss for the Democratic Party in almost a century,” Shuler said on CNN’s State of the Union. “And to be able to put Speaker Pelosi as minority leader is truly … unacceptable for our party.”

“If she doesn’t step aside then … I’m going to press forward,” he said. “I can add and subtract pretty well. I don’t have the numbers to be able to win, but I think it’s a proven point for moderates and the Democrat Party that we have to be a big tent. We have to be all-inclusive. We have to invite everyone into the party.”

As part of his nascent campaign, Shuler is reaching back to his ill-fated career in the NFL to persuade his fellow House Democrats that they need to make a leadership change:

After a junior year in which he almost won the Heisman Trophy, Heath Shuler was picked in the first round of the 1994 National Football League draft by the Washington Redskins. In less than two seasons — and after a few too many interceptions — he was replaced as the team’s starting quarterback. ESPN described him as one of the all-time draft busts.

He might be expected to play down such a distinction. But Mr. Shuler, 38, who just won a third term as the congressman representing North Carolina’s 11th District, has turned it into metaphor.

“It’s no different than me as a quarterback,” he said in an interview here on Thursday. “I didn’t play very good. So what they’d do? They benched me.”

The Redskins in this instance are the Democrats in Congress. The dismal season is the trouncing they received at the polls two weeks ago. And the quarterback is Nancy Pelosi, the soon-to-be former speaker of the House.

Since surviving that election, Mr. Shuler has emerged as one of most prominent voices in the debate about the Democratic Party’s immediate future. He was among the first to call for Ms. Pelosi to step down from her leadership role in the new Congress and said he would run for minority leader himself if no alternative emerged (though he admitted that he would be an underdog).

The Democrats’ achievements in the last Congress, Mr. Shuler said, are unpopular with the public because the party’s leadership has been too reflexively partisan. He says a more moderate approach is needed.

“It’s my guys that worked probably harder than any group in Washington, did all the right things, voted the right way and still got beat for the simple fact that you’ve got the far edges running the Congress,” Mr. Shuler said.

While Shuler has a good argument that it doesn’t make much sense to go into the minority with the same team that led you there, the odds of Shuler’s quest succeeding seem slim to but it mildly. The Blue Dog Coalition that Shuler is a part of suffered devastating losses in the November 2nd elections, while the progressive/liberal wing of the party, from which Pelosi hails, actually saw its position in the caucus enhanced in the new Congress. Given that, it seems unlikely that Shuler could come anywhere near being able to put together an effective challenge to Pelosi, although his candidacy may serve as a rallying cry for Democrats who agree with him about how the party could recover from its historic losses:

“We’ve got to be able to recruit. We have to go into those moderate areas, those swing districts, and be able to get great recruits or get back those members of Congress that we lost, be able to have them on the ticket in 2012 to be able to win back the House. And I just don’t see that path happening if we have her at the top of the leadership.”

(…)

Shuler said the leadership under Pelosi had pushed legislation that was “so far to the left,” that by the time lawmakers managed to push it back towards the center “it had been demonized by everyone involved and made it very difficult to be able to get a real message out clearly to the American people.”

While I am loath to give advice to Democrats as to how they might recover, it strikes me that Shuler is on the right track, and that the party’s apparent decision to react to the election results by not changing anything is pretty dumb.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2010, Congress, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that this cartoon at the Christian Science Monitor pretty much says it all.

  2. An Interested Party says:

    “While Shuler has a good argument that it doesn’t make much sense to go into the minority with the same team that led you there…”

    Except that it was this same team that, arguably, led that minority into the majority in 2006 and 2008 and was the key to getting the president’s health care plans (watered down, though) passed…now, of course, I’m sure there are many around here who would argue that HCR is an abomination, a “socialist” monstrosity, etc…and yet, this will be around long after these momentary arguments about majorities and minorities…

    http://www.slate.com/id/2273708/

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Except that it was this same team that, arguably, led that minority into the majority in 2006

    Who was the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006? You know, when the Democrats seized the majority in the House? A member of the progressive caucus? I seem to remember that it was a member of the DLC not part of “this same team”.

  4. wr says:

    As the man said, if I have a choice between a Republican and a Democrat pretending to be a Republican, I’ll go for the real thing every time.

    It’s insane for any Democrat to believe they have any constituency that wants them to be just like the Republicans, but losers.

  5. ratufa says:

    I can imagine dumping Pelosi as leader of the Democrats for the purely political reason that she has become such a lightning rod for the opposition.

    On the other hand, criticizing her as a poor leader because she got unpopular legislation passed is pretty silly, given the unpopularity of what many conservatives would like to accomplish.

  6. wr,

    According to the article I linked above, Shuler has voted with his party 83.9% of the time this session. His one major break was on the health care reform bill, which the vast majority of his constituents opposed apparently.

    Your demand for purity is as silly as the ones I hear from my Republican friends

  7. ponce says:

    Pelosi is arguably the most effective Speaker of the House since Tip O’Neill.

    No wonder the wingnuts want her gone.

  8. reid says:

    That CSM cartoon would be more apt if it showed a GOP submarine had torpedoed the ship and was circling around to take another shot….

  9. wr says:

    Doug — Shuler has a personal crusade against abortion rights, which is a core value of the Democratic base. He fought furiously to ban abortion under his vison of HCR, and continues to. He eventually voted for financial reform, but only after fighting to weaken it. He is a small state conservative Dem, out of touch with the base of the party.

    As for his voting record, I’m sure it’s less in line with his part than that of, say, Olympica Snowe. But no one would ever suggest that she should be named minority leader in the Senate. Because no one expects Republicans to give up everything they believe in just to get along with the other guys.

    I’m not looking for purity, Doug, but I want Democratic leadership that reflects Democratic values.

    But even if I loved him politically, I’ve seen it happen far too often that the Dems choose leaders from red states, which puts them in a terrible position. As leaders they need to fight for Democratic values; as red state politicians they have to act like Republicans. And we end up with Tom Daschle.

    We need strong liberal leadership from strong liberal areas

    That’s not purity, that’s reality.

  10. André Kenji says:

    “Shuler has a personal crusade against abortion rights, which is a core value of the Democratic base”

    Just ask Bob Casey. Sr.

  11. wr says:

    Would that be Bob Casey Sr, who was refused a speaking position at the Democratic Convention because he refused to endorse the nominated candidate — but whom right-wingers have made a phony martyr, insisting it was because he was anti-choice?

    Oh, and tell me, Andre, since you’ve got that keen grasp on political history, how many pro-choice Republicans have given speeches at the last few Repub conventions?

  12. André Kenji says:

    Casey, as Mark Shields wrote some years ago, was a pretty good Democrat, and in the last Republican convention there were at least four prochoice politicians. But, Mr. Shields explains that better than me.

    http://www.creators.com/opinion/mark-shields/the-real-big-tent-party.html

    I don´t have poll numbers, but abortion on demand(And Late term abortions) is not so popular among several groups in the Democrat coalition: Hispanics do not like it(That´s radioactive among many Hispanics), Blacks do not like it, it´s unpopular among young people. It´s also a loser issue among catholics.

  13. An Interested Party says:

    “I can imagine dumping Pelosi as leader of the Democrats for the purely political reason that she has become such a lightning rod for the opposition.”

    ANY leader of the Democrats would be painted as some radical to be used as a lightning rod to rail against…

  14. wr says:

    Ah, yes, the big tent republicans. Tell me, Andre, which of those fierce four were allowed to mention the word abortion at the convention, or suggest that they disagreed with the platform in any way?

    As for “abortion on demand” — what would you prefer? Abortion when a Tea Partier says it’s okay? Abortion when you’re rich and can fly to Switzerland? Abortion never, because your body belongs to the Republican party and the various churches that support it?

    Either we’re free or we’re not. Republicans have decided that freedom means only a difference of three perecent in taxes. But you’d enslave every woman to your own religious beliefs.

    No, thanks.

  15. G.A.Phillips says:

    ***anti-choice*** lol…..:( come on dude!!!!

  16. wr says:

    Sorry, GA, did I misunderstand? Do you believe that a woman has a right to determine who controls her body? Or do you want the state to control her?

    Oh, wait. You’re a Republican. You believe in complete freedom — aka license — for yourself and slavery for women.

    Nevermind.

  17. ponce says:

    That Republicans would treat women like cattle if they could get away with it is a given.

    Why do you think a strong leader like Nancy Pelosi bothers them so much?

    Let’s see how Boner the Orange does in her job over the next two year…I have a feeling he’ll make Dennis Hastert look like Patton.

  18. Geek, Esq. says:

    People (e.g. David Frum) were giving the Republicans the same advice after 2008. They smartly rejected it.

    The Boehner/Issa Congress aspires to be some combination of the 80th “Do Nothing” Congress and the gang who shut the government down under Gingrich.

    We’ll see how that resume serves them.

    The only question is whether Barack Obama becomes Harry Truman or Thomas Dewey.

  19. André Kenji says:

    “Tell me, Andre, which of those fierce four were allowed to mention the word abortion at the convention, or suggest that they disagreed with the platform in any way?”

    Why anyone would talk about abortion in a convention? That´s divisive as it gets, because people are uncomfortable both with Late Term abortion and with denying abortion to women that were raped. It´s a loser.

    “As for “abortion on demand” — what would you prefer? Abortion when a Tea Partier says it’s okay? ”

    To me, unless there is a danger to the life of the child, never. Yes, there is the case of incest and rape, that can be a exception.

    “Either we’re free or we’re not. Republicans have decided that freedom means only a difference of three perecent in taxes. But you’d enslave every woman to your own religious beliefs.”

    1-) I´m not a Republican.

    2-) There are plenty of Democrats that does not think that freedom is 3% in taxes, but that does not like abortion. Catholics and Hispanics in special, but it´s not so popular among blacks too. Young people aren´t so much fond of it. So, more Democrats agrees with Heath Shuler on abortion than people commenting in blogs admits.

  20. Ben says:

    Andre – I’m pro-choice, but I oftentimes try to think like a pro-lifer to analyze the argument. Thus, I want to get to what I see as an inconsistency in the republican view of abortion. I understand that “life of the mother” = “self-defense”, but the rape/incest thing confuses me.

    If you really, truly do believe that abortion is murder, then why is it ok to murder the baby if it was conceived out of rape or incest? The circumstances of the conception shouldn’t matter if you think that it’s murder. And if the circumstances of conception are allowed to affect whether you abort or not, then are you saying that you’re allowed to murder given the right circumstances?

  21. André Kenji says:

    “If you really, truly do believe that abortion is murder, then why is it ok to murder the baby if it was conceived out of rape or incest?”

    I don´t think that´s OK. I simply do not talk about that issue because I was never raped. It´s not like I´m a great fan of that idea. And I think that opposing this kind of abortion it just makes easier to disqualify any prolife arguments.

    But I´m not radical in that issue, as most Democrats aren´t. By the way, frankly, James Clyburn is the best option for Minority leader. He is a Southern, Black and although he may come from a gerrymandered District he is a savvy political operator. He also would be a bigger asset for Blue Dogs in the South than he is now. And he could be the first Black Speaker of the House.

  22. Robert in SF says:

    I have a hard time taking this guy seriously when he refers to his own party as “The Democrat Party.” I hate that term! It’s such a spin term, used to demonize the party by the taking point-ers, and it’s childish to use.

    Robert (from NC) in SF

  23. Marvin K. Gibbons says:

    Congratulations Congressman , I wish you the best and will be praying for you. You sure have your work cut out for you, along with the rest of the Congress. I am glad you are running for speaker. If I could I would certainly vote for you. We the people are aware of the many problems This great country has before it. Only our God in Heaven can solve these problems. The energy problem can be solved by the production of Hydrogen, which we could run our cars, trucks, buses,tanks,and airplanes on. also we could heat,and cool our houses with hydrogen. Hydrogen is produced by taking the oxygen out of water. When hydrogen is burned it omits water back into the air. I keep hearing that social security and medicare is bankrupting the country. If the government would have administered it right and would not have gave it to those that have not contributed to it. and left it under the plan it was meant to be in and would not have spent it on other projects that it was not meant for. social security would be in good shape. Thanks you so much for wanting to serve.God Bless You. Marvin K.Gibbons