Republicans have once again cast House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the bogeyman for campaign ads in races all across the country. If you've ever heard the phrase "San Francisco values" sneered in a voiceover on your TV, it's almost certain that Pelosi is involved somehow.
You know who isn't appearing in so many GOP attack ads? Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Senate minority leader from New York.
You know why? He's a patsy.
The latest evidence for this proposition emerged on Wednesday, when Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing designed to bring a lineup of conservative lawyers one step closer to confirmation as federal judges. It's not a surprise that the GOP is doing what it can to confirm conservative judges. But the hearing itself was a surprise: Hadn't Schumer cut a deal — right after the blistering defeat to Republicans on Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court — to confirm 15 Republican judges quickly, so that his members could go home to campaign?
Yes, he did.
It was a decision that angered the Dems' liberal base, and even from a campaign point of view, it was difficult to figure out what Schumer was thinking. What were the Democratic candidates who supported him supposed to tell constituents back home? "Vote for me, and I'll help get Republican judges confirmed even faster!" If that's what voters want, they can always just vote for the GOP candidate.
In classic Schumer fashion, that agreement to surrender turned into an even bigger defeat: It turns out Republicans understood the "deal" differently than Schumer and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, did. The Democrats thought the hearing would only take place while the Senate was in session. Republicans differed. And so Democrats were left to complain that the "spirit" of the agreement had been violated.
In politics, if you're complaining that the spirit of an agreement has been broken, you've lost. Even Schumer's former spokesman, Brian Fallon, was disgusted. "Great negotiating," he sniffed in a tweet.
Schumer, it is clear, isn't much of a wartime consigliere.
If that was an isolated moment in the annals of Schumerian badness, maybe progressive activists could shrug it off. But the hearing came one day after Senate Majority PAC — which is controlled by Schumer's allies — announced it will put $3 million into the race to defend New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who has been beset by legal and ethical problems. Unsurprisingly, Menendez is having trouble selling voters on another term. Democrats, who have been in the hunt to retake the Senate this election, have chosen under Schumer to back a candidate who plainly doesn't deserve their support. As my colleague Ryan Cooper noted earlier this month: "Democrats could have ditched this turkey for virtually any other person in the state and cruised to victory." They didn't, and that's at least partly on Schumer.
Schumer's prime qualification to lead Democrats in the Senate is this: He's a hell of a fundraiser. That's not entirely positive. Like Hillary Clinton when she was in the Senate, he functions as Wall Street's representative in the upper chamber. That keeps the cash flowing to candidates, but it's discouraging to liberal activists — and millions of ordinary Americans — who think the financial sector should've paid a price for its role in nearly destroying the economy back in 2007. Schumer is a big reason that never happened. A decade later, the economy has mostly recovered, but the American psyche hasn't. Schumer's leadership isn't helping.
Which brings us back to Wednesday's judicial committee hearing. Liberals wanted Schumer to fight Republicans on judges. Schumer had other priorities. Liberals lost.
This may not be entirely Schumer's fault: Liberals are going to lose as long as Democrats are in the congressional minority. And he leads a party whose voters — much more than Republicans — actually like the idea of compromise for the greater good. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can forever obstruct Democratic presidents, knowing the Republican base loves it. The pathway for Schumer is less clear.
Still, it seems time to let somebody else take a crack at Schumer's job.
It's true that Democrats are more amenable to compromise than Republicans. But it's also true that voters like candidates who appear ready to genuinely go to battle for them, to lay everything on the line once in awhile instead of being perpetually in strategic retreat. Americans tend to notice when you never, ever really fight for what you believe.
In 1948, President Harry Truman — facing the likelihood of losing his campaign for the Oval Office — called the Republican-held Congress into special session and dared it to enact its agenda. It was bold, it was confrontational, and yes, it kept a lot of elected officials from hitting the campaign trail. But GOP leaders refused to take votes, and the emboldened Truman squeaked out an election victory.
There's a reason Pelosi, not Schumer, so often ends up in GOP crosshairs: She wants to win elections, too, but she uses her power to get stuff done — and she gives as good as she gets. Democrats need a leader in the Senate with the same verve. Let Chuck Schumer keep fundraising; it's time for someone else to go toe-to-toe with Mitch McConnell.