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It's time to rethink old assumptions about Pelosi's public standing

For many political observers, it's simply assumed that Nancy Pelosi is unpopular to the point of toxicity. It's time to rethink those assumptions.
Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Her Weekly Press Conference At The Capitol
U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi departs her weekly press conference on Jan. 31, 2019 in Washington.

In recent years, the conventional wisdom in Republican circles has been that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's public standing is so poor, it's effectively toxic. According to a recent book from Cliff Sims, a former aide in Donald Trump's White House, the president told then-House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) a couple of years ago, in reference to Pelosi, "Have you seen her? She's a disaster. Every time she opens her mouth another Republican gets elected."

The comment helped crystallize the GOP's assumptions on the California Democrat, though the latest national Fox News poll, released late yesterday, suggests those assumptions are due for an overhaul.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's personal favorability rating is under water by 6 points (42 percent favorable vs. 48 percent unfavorable). Still, that's a new high, and gives her the highest favorable rating of Capitol Hill leadership tested in the poll.

Obviously, no one with a 42% favorability rating should be described as broadly popular with the American electorate. That said, according to Fox News' results, Pelosi's favorability is roughly in line with Donald Trump's -- in fact, her unfavorable rating is quite a bit better than the president's -- and the House Speaker has stronger public support than Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

As regular readers know, less than a year ago, after House Republicans suffered through their worst midterm cycle since the immediate aftermath of Watergate, there was a fair amount of anxiety about Democrats elevating Pelosi back to the Speaker's office -- not because she'd failed to earn it, but because some in the party believed she was too unpopular.

It was certainly the image GOP officials have spent years cultivating, condemning the villainous "San Francisco liberal," and trying desperately to tie Democratic candidates to Pelosi, occasionally in races that are unrelated to the U.S. House.

In 2017, some Republican insiders were quite candid about the party's go-to move: complain about Pelosi and wait for conservative voters to have the conditioned, knee-jerk response.

"I think we'll see if it works," then-NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) said. "I believe it still works."

But in practice, anti-Pelosi tactics didn't prevent Democrats from reclaiming the House majority in 2018, and a year later, Fox News' latest poll suggests Pelosi's public standing has never been stronger. Indeed, Fox News has been testing the Democratic leader's favorability for more than 12 years, and the California congresswoman now has the highest support of her career.

If Republican advertising starts swapping out Pelosi for new progressive villains, we'll know why.