Pelosi Stumbles Out of the Blocks

November 17, 2006 · 12:02 AM EST

Yes, I know. Leadership fights on Capitol Hill are the ultimate political insider contests. Voters don’t care about them, and once they are over, they are quickly forgotten.

Having said that, Nancy Pelosi’s decision to pick a public fight with her second in command, Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, is so incomprehensible, so politically stupid that it has raised eyebrows among political journalists and insiders of all type.

For weeks, I have been suggesting that Pelosi will be a lot smarter and more subtle that her conservative critics warned, and that she won’t drive the Democratic bus off the cliff. But now I’m not so sure.

Pelosi’s political antennae appear much less sensitive than I assumed, and if you are a Republican looking for a quick reason to think that you may be able to take back the House in 2008, the incoming Speaker’s intervention in the majority leader race – a race that her candidate lost rather decisively – has to give you some reason for optimism.

Instead of generating front page stories about the Democrats’ agenda, Pelosi has made herself and divisions within her party the story du jour.

In publicly backing Rep. John Murtha – and apparently strong-arming Democrats to support him over Hoyer – Pelosi threw her support to someone who has plenty of ethics baggage and contempt for the reformist agenda that many Democrats, and many Americans, seem to want.

Pelosi doesn’t have to like Hoyer to work with him. Her effort to crush him suggests considerable personal flaws that could come back to haunt her. Just as bad, she has taken a non-story for most people and turned it into a lose-lose proposition for herself.

Now, reporters will have the Pelosi versus Hoyer story to kick around for the next couple of years, and Pelosi will forever have started off her historic speakership with a stinging, and very unnecessary, defeat.

This item first appeared on Political Wire on November 16, 2006.