Get the Think newsletter.
 / Updated 
By Kurt Bardella

Just a few months ago, Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY), the Chairman of the Democratic Caucus, was positioning himself to one day succeed House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

Turns out he won’t even be in Congress next year after a stunning loss to a 28-year-old Latina Democratic socialist named Alexandria Oscasio-Cortez.

When will Democrats understand that the election of Donald Trump in 2016 had more to do with the American people’s complete and utter disgust with the Washington, D.C., political establishment than anything else?

Congressional Democrats would be wise to accept the reality that Nancy Pelosi just isn’t the right person to lead the Democratic Party anymore.

Democrats must ask themselves if, in this anti-establishment environment, a 78-year old multi-millionaire is really the person in the best position to lead.

These next few months will be among the most consequential in recent memory, with both the mid-term elections and a Supreme Court nominee fight unfolding simultaneously. Democrats must ask themselves if, in this anti-establishment environment, a 78-year-old multimillionaire who has been the leader of House Democrats since 2002 is really the person in the best position to lead.

Have they learned nothing from the 2016 presidential election?

To find success in the November midterms and beyond, Democrats need to recognize that there is a severe generational gap between the entire House Democratic leadership in Congress and the rest of the American public.

To be clear, I do not seek to diminish Pelosi’s historic political accomplishments and awe-inspiring record of public service. She may very well be the most consequential female to serve in the United States Congress. But like all great athletes, sometimes you have the self-awareness to know when it’s time to walk away.

For years, I watched the Republican establishment in Washington try and resist calls for change from their base. I saw how, with each passing year, the voters grew more and more frustrated and Republican leadership grew more and more tone-deaf. An increasingly insular and out-of-touch GOP leadership ultimately allowed bottom-dwellers like Steve Bannon to step and fill the void, paving the way for someone like Donald Trump to come in and completely hijack the Republican Party.

Democrats need to take note: The longer you ignore the will of the people, the more likely you run the risk of driving them further and further to the fringes.

Clearly, the Democratic base wants change. The likelihood that meaningful change can originate from the fossils that comprise the current Democratic leadership of Nancy Pelosi (78 years old), Steny Hoyer (79 years old) and Jim Clyburn (77 years old) is very low indeed.

Instead, Democrats should be looking to elevate a new generation of leaders like Eric Swalwell (37 years old), Tulsi Gabbard (37 years old) Joaquin Castro (43 years old), Cedric Richmond (44 years old) and Adam Schiff (58 years old). And they need to encourage the newcomers like Ocasio-Cortez, whose primary win sent a jolt of much-needed progressive energy through the Democratic electorate.

Image: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Upsets  Rep. Joseph Crowley In NY Primary
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrartes with supporters at a victory party in the Bronx after upsetting incumbent Democratic Representative Joseph Crowly on June 26, 2018 in New York City.Scott Heins / Getty Images

Democrats do not have the luxury of sidelining its “new blood” as they pay their dues and wait their turn as traditional congressional leadership orthodoxy demands. From forced family separations at the border that have resulted in the incarceration of thousands of children to systemic attacks against the Constitution, the cult of Trump is completely sabotaging the United States of America. With every passing day and every passing tweet, the American people are becoming more and more agitated and volatile. They aren’t looking for business as usual, they are looking for rapid change.

And Justice Anthony Kennedy's resignation only makes the fight more urgent for anyone who cares about reproductive rights, LGBT rights and a whole host of other issues that primarily affect marginalized communities.

The choice for Democrats in Congress is very clear: embrace the season of change that the people are calling for or follow the John Boehner and Eric Cantor model.

The choice for Democrats in Congress is very clear: Embrace the season of change that the people are calling for or follow the John Boehner and Eric Cantor model of resisting change at all costs. One path allows Democrats to create order, stability and focus within their ranks. The other risks a backlash that could wipe them all out.

If the immediate goal is to retake the House majority and create a safeguard against Donald Trump’s destructive presidency, does Pelosi or anyone in her Congressional generation have what it takes to succeed? We’ve had three straight congressional cycles where the Pelosi-led Democrats have failed to regain the majority in the House. We can’t afford a fourth.

Kurt Bardella is an NBC News THINK contributor. He is a former spokesman for the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., as well as for former Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and former Rep. Brian Bilbray, R-Calif. Follow him on Twitter: @kurtbardella.