Pelosi Is Down but Not Out
In every sense of the word, Trump absolutely killed it last Tuesday at the SOTU. Sitting behind President Trump, watching him master the room, the grimace of Pelosi's face betrayed the culmination of a dawning revelation that unsettled her, and it was this: Trump is really, really good at this. Optics. Stagecraft. Working the crowd. On a stage, he's untouchable.
All her political prowess at crunching poll numbers, strong-arming legislation, and setting media narratives felt impotent. For the first time, Pelosi comprehended not only the potential of Trump's ingenuity, but also the fact that she had been decisively outmaneuvered by it. For the first time, Pelosi realized Trump was not the incompetent harlequin her sycophants snottily assured her he was, but rather a skilled operator with an instinct for reading the mood of a crowd and, indeed, of a nation. But the owl of Minerva spreads its wings at dusk, and for Pelosi, her revelation may have came too late.
So there she sat, the empress with no clothes, having been de-robed by her own thankless impeachment-crazed minions and now exposed on national television. There she sat, watching her own party of curmudgeons sit stone-faced as the president beamed optimism and confidence, rattled off employment gains for women and minorities, reunited a military family, rescued a child from a failing government school, and honored Rush Limbaugh. There she sat, a day after the Iowa caucus spectacle, and a day before her adopted sham impeachment sputtered to an inglorious demise. There she sat, understanding that while McConnell's shrewdness surely didn't help her, nor the falling on their own Nerf swords of rodeo clowns Schiff and Nadler, the one person most responsible for her current predicament is Donald John Trump Senior.
It was a culmination of three years of attempts to bring down Trump that were not only unsuccessful, but humiliatingly so. But while we bask in the afterglow, we should remain vigilant. Conservative gloating that this marks the beginning of Pelosi's end are premature. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. But Pelosi is nothing if not Machiavellian to the core.
We would do well not to underestimate her ruthlessness, for she couples it with a rare quality that magnifies her potency exponentially: patience. She's survived three decades of Beltway gutter politics, and we would be foolish to assume she won't survive one bad week. Right now, she's wounded, and President Trump's instinct (which is correct) is to keep hammering her at her nadir, to prevent her from getting up. When you shoot at the king, you better not miss (I'd refer to her as queen, but who am I to gender label?).
Keep in mind, Pelosi is only off balance right now because she's feeling pressure from both the right and left flanks. From the outset, she knew that impeachment was a political loser, and conveyed as much in her repeated attempts to temper the hotter passions of her more radical colleagues. But she was ultimately outflanked and neutered by her own party. This is something new to her, and it's left her temporarily discombobulated. But she could bounce back again, as she has before, in all her vengeful turpitude. If her left flank eases up on her, she can more easily regain control. Perhaps these "tantrums" of hers are designed to do exactly that.
Her district seat is safe and has been since she was appointed to it in 1987. The most the Right can do is threaten her speakership. When voters gave Republicans the House majority in 2010, she retained her power-in-waiting for nearly a decade until 2018, when Democrats retook the House and she became the only House Speaker in history to regain the position after losing it. After Speaker John Boehner retired to spend his time weeping in a tanning bed, Pelosi ceremoniously passed the Speaker's gavel to Paul Ryan with a wry grin that sneered, This should be easy. Good luck, kid, enjoy it while you can, I'll be back soon enough. And she was right.
Over the past week, the assumption is that, by tearing up Trump's speech, she showed middle America what a petulant child she was, and that this will only help Trump in November. This is probably true. But Pelosi is not running for president, she is fighting to preserve her political fiefdom. And while odds are looking better towards a Trump reelection, they are less so for Republicans flipping the House. As of this writing, we need to add 35 seats to our numbers. In the more likely event that Trump is reelected but Republicans fail to retake the House, Pelosi is free to obstruct any and all progress for another two years.
With Pelosi's souvenir pen stunt, with her impeachment-is-forever pressers, and with her tearing up Trump's speech, she is putting herself out ahead of her party's radicals, and retaking control of the steering wheel. To the extent that these ploys are ultimately successful, it will have been precisely because she is Speaker of the House with over three decades of congressional experience. The overrated Squad may have star power, but it's fleeting and doesn't translate into pragmatic leverage in the power corridors of Washington. Furthermore, their in-your-face bids for attention have been molding for months now. They have a collective discipline of precisely zero and are increasingly seen as "small time wasters with an accidental big deal" (props to Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting).
Chutzpah can be an asset if used subtly and sparingly, by a competent practitioner with the capacity for self-control. When the Squad does it, eyes roll. When Pelosi does it, eyebrows raise. A few of Pelosi's strategically placed "tantrums" are more effective than endless bleating from that puerile quartet that everything under the sun is racist. Posture as they might against authority or the Establishment, Pelosi's status and experience give her actions a grudging credibility among the leftward waves of the Democrat base.
As I said, Pelosi's revelation may have come too late, and this may indeed be the beginning of her end. I certainly hope so. But she's proven to be no flash in the pan, and right now she is retooling, recalibrating, reconfiguring, reorganizing, and redeploying. Her antics, while a gamble, are nonetheless a calculated gamble. It's simply implausible that she would make so many unforced errors in so short of time. If they backfire on a wider scale, she will not have lost influence with the Right, who despises her anyway.
Whatever influence she loses with the Left will be temporary, and of a tactical nature. Leftists wincing at her recent behavior do so not on principle, but out of fear that it will help Trump. But as November looms closer, whatever rise Trump enjoys in the polls will be blamed not on Pelosi, but on the shortcomings of whoever ends up being their candidate. Need an example? Hillary crashed and burned. Pelosi is still here.
Know your enemy, and do not underestimate them. Pelosi is a monster. She would cut her mother's throat for a Snicker's bar, and she has no plans of going quietly into the night. We turn our back to her at our peril.