Democratic congressman: Our ‘toxic’ brand under Pelosi makes it hard to win

Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, says the Democratic Party’s “toxic” brand under House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is making it difficult for their party to connect with voters.

“We’ve got a lot of energy in our base, which is very exciting for a lot of us to see that on the ground,” Ryan told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday morning. “But you’ve got to beat the Republican and you’ve got to carry this very toxic Democratic brand on your back, too. That’s a tough thing to ask a candidate running for Congress.”

His comments come on the heels of a bruising loss in a special election in a Georgia House race — the fourth such loss since President Trump took office. Democrats and Republicans heavily invested in the contest, which became the most expensive House race in U.S. history.

Ryan, who tried unsuccessfully to unseat Pelosi as House minority leader last fall, said that despite President Trump’s sinking approval rating, “it will be very hard” for Democrats to win back the majority in the House during the 2018 midterm elections with Pelosi in charge.

“It’s going to be more challenging, certainly,” Ryan said. “You see these commercials that tie these candidates to Leader Pelosi week in and week out in the last several months. That still moves the needle.”

Pelosi is fending off calls from some House colleagues to step aside. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images)
Pelosi is fending off calls from some House colleagues to step aside. (Paul Morigi/Getty Images)

“We can do it because it’s Donald Trump,” he continued. “But I mean, you think, what if it was John Kasich? What if it was Marco Rubio? I mean, we would be in real trouble right now as a party, and we can’t forget that fact.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Ryan put it another way.

“Our brand is worse than Trump,” he said.

According to a Quinnipiac poll released last month, Trump had a net favorability rating of negative 22 points. Pelosi’s net favorability rating? Negative 20 points.

On Wednesday night, Ryan told CNN’s Don Lemon that it’s clear the Democratic party has a messaging problem.

“We have Donald Trump as president now,” he said. “We’ve done something terribly wrong to make that so. And we’ve lost traditional Democratic voters that don’t see us as connecting to them, don’t see us as advocates for them. We’ve got to put ourselves in the best position possible to be able to win these races.”

Related: Trump team takes victory lap after GOP special-election wins

“Look, I don’t think everybody should get a trophy in life,” he continued. “You get trophies because you earn them. I don’t like second place. I don’t like moral victories. I believe in the ideas of the Democratic Party. I believe in a government that could be both nimble but yet active and support social justice issues that are critically important.”

Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., put it bluntly.

“Look, we need to win. Everything else is bulls***,” Maloney told the Washington Post. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., says it’s time for Pelosi to go.

“Nancy Pelosi was a great speaker, she was a great leader, but her time has come and gone,” Rice said on MSNBC.

“The rationale for getting new leadership is that we’re losing,” Rice continued. “Do I think it’s fair that the Republicans’ playbook over the last four election cycles has been attacking Nancy Pelosi and demonizing her? No, that’s not fair, nor is it accurate. But guess what? It works. They’re winning, so we have to address that reality.”

“We’re not losing as badly as we did a year ago. Isn’t that great?” she said sarcastically on CNN’s “New Day.” “No!”

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Ryan said he would rather focus on the party’s economic message than, say, the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

“The economic message … is something that we’ve got to get back to,” he said on CNN. “There’s so many families struggling, and we’re kind of not focused on that as much as we should be.”

In a letter to her Democratic colleagues following Tuesday’s losses, Pelosi promised to put forth an economic message “we can all embrace.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday morning, Pelosi said she feels “very confident” she has the support of her fellow Democrats, and that the party is “united when it comes to our concern for America’s working families.”

Pelosi added: “I respect any opinion my members have, but my decision about how long I stay is not up to them.”

Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, sent a separate memo to members intended to “motivate” them following the setback in Georgia.

“This is about much more than one race,” Luján wrote. “The national environment, unprecedented grassroots energy and impressive democratic candidates stepping up to run deep into the battlefield leave no doubt that Democrats can take back the House next fall.”

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