Representative Elissa Slotkin (D., Mich.), a moderate whose district voted for President Trump in 2016 and 2020, said she would not support giving Nancy Pelosi (D., Calfi.) another term as House Speaker, in an interview with Politico.
“You know, the one thing I will say about Donald Trump,” Slotkin began. “He doesn’t talk down to anybody. He is who he is, but he doesn’t talk down to anyone. And I think that there is a certain voter out there because of that who identifies with him and appreciates him.” (This “certain voter,” she noted, is the MAGA enthusiast who appreciates that Trump does not condescend to them while ignoring how he belittles and demeans others.)
Trump carried Slotkin’s 8th district in 2020 by just 1 percentage point, while the incumbent congresswoman won reelection by less than 4 points. Slotkin earned national fame as part of a group of moderate Democrats who pushed to open an impeachment inquiry against the president in September 2019.
In the wide-ranging interview, Slotkin made clear that she thinks Democrats needed a change in leadership after the party almost lost its House majority in the general elections.
“I will not be voting for Nancy Pelosi” for speaker of the House, Slotkin told Politico. “I have no idea if people are gonna run against her, or who might run against her. And I will of course have this conversation directly with her. But I believe we need new leadership.”
Slotkin added, “I would love to see more Midwesterners, because if you look across the leadership….I respect these people, but it’s New York and California.”
Democrats have seen infighting between moderate and progressive members after the elections. Moderates have slammed progressives’ adoption of the label of socialism, as well as the slogan “defund the police.” Slotkin pointed out that Democrats’ basic divide could be seen in more geographic terms, with liberals from “New York and California” on the one hand, and the rest of the country on the other.
“The brand of the national Democratic Party is mushy,” Slotkin said. “People don’t know what we stand for, what we’re about.”
She then compared Trump’s leadership to that of her own party.
“It’s not just that he eats cheeseburgers at a big celebratory dinner. It’s not just that he does things that the common man can kind of appreciate. And it’s not even because he uses kind of simplistic language—he doesn’t use complicated, wonky language, the way a lot of Democrats do,” Slotkin said. “We sometimes make people feel like they aren’t conscientious enough. They aren’t thoughtful enough. They aren’t ‘woke’ enough. They aren’t smart enough or educated enough to just understand what’s good for them. … It’s talking down to people. It’s alienating them. And there’s just certain voters who feel so distant from the political process—it’s not their life, it’s not their world. They hate it. They don’t like all that politics stuff. Trump speaks to them, because he includes them.”
This was a central thesis of Slotkin’s argument. It has long been perceived that Democrats, in the post-9/11 era, are the party of inclusion and big-tent politics. But Slotkin has begun to question that notion.
She fears that Democrats have created a barrier to entry, largely along cultural lines, that makes the party fundamentally unwelcoming to anyone with supposedly retrograde views of the world around them. This is not merely about race and racism. The schisms go far deeper, to matters of faith and conscience, economic freedom and individual liberty.
Indeed, for the heavy losses Trump sustained among affluent college-educated whites, he nearly won a second term because of his gains with Black and brown voters. That these Americans were willing to support Trump, often in spite of his rhetoric, reveals an uncomfortable truth for the left. There are millions of voters—working-class whites and working-class minorities—whose stances on social controversies put them out of touch with the Democratic Party. It’s a truth they might be willing to overlook, if only the party could do the same.
“I remember, long before, literally, Donald Trump was even a twinkle in our eye, the way that people in my life here couldn’t stand political correctness. And I think [this is] the same kind of sentiment,” Slotkin explained. “Because the political correctness is thinking you’re better than somebody else—it’s correcting someone. Now, I happen to believe that we live in a different era, and that we have to be better than we were in previous eras. … But people do feel looked down upon.”
At the root of our polarization, Slotkin argued, is one half of the country believing it is enlightened and the other half resenting it.