Stirewaltisms: Lessons in Power at a Time of Transition

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.)

When the history of our age gels, it will note that at a time when Congress had become so weak and ineffectual, it had two of its strongest leaders of all time.

Nancy Pelosi, 82, and Mitch McConnell, 80, arrived in Congress two years apart; him in the Senate in 1985, her in the House in 1987. Over the ensuing decades, they followed very different paths to mastery of the legislative branch but shared a dogged institutionalism. 

Pelosi ruled with a combination of blunt force and a well-funded favor bank even after reversals, while McConnell maintains his position by a combination of deference to his fellow Republican members and fearsome political acumen. Accordingly, her low moments have been of arrogant power while his have been of aversion to risk. But both have always been revered by their members for the loyalty and protection they afforded their stalwarts.

Rising to power at a time when Congress was changing from an Article I  dynamo to a stage set for a poorly rated reality show, Pelosi and McConnell stood out for both the intensity of their partisanship and their skill as tacticians. She became Democratic leader in the House in 2002 at age 62, he became Republican Senate leader in 2006 at age 64, both replacing younger predecessors who had come to be seen in their parties as too conciliatory for the new politics of obstruction and partisan absolutism. 

This content is available exclusively to Dispatch members
Try a membership for full access to every newsletter and all of The Dispatch. Support quality, fact-based journalism.
Already a paid member? Sign In
Comments (45)
Join The Dispatch to participate in the comments.
Load More