Nancy Pelosi hands Donald Trump a lesson in the art of politics

US-politics-budgetPresumptive Speaker, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and US President Donald Trump argue before a meeting at the White House December 11, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
‘We should not have a Trump shutdown’: Nancy Pelosi addresses Donald Trump in the Oval Office on 11 December. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

He has come up with “Crooked Hillary”, “Little Marco”, “Lyin’ Ted”, “Crazy Bernie”, “Sloppy Steve” and “Cryin’ Chuck”. Donald Trump is the master of branding his opponents with crude names that somehow paint them into a corner. But so far one has eluded him: the woman he calls only “Nancy”.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has emerged as his nemesis, the face of opposition to the president. As a partial government shutdown enters a record fifth week, the Democrat has been implacable in denying him $5.7bn to help build a border wall. This week she out-Trumped Trump, by effectively rescinding his invitation to deliver the State of the Union address.

Then, on Saturday, she released a sharply worded statement rejecting Trump’s proposed deal to end the closure – shortly before the president announced it from the Diplomatic Room of the White House.

“She’s not only outmanoeuvring him, she’s outraging him,” said Michael Cornfield, associate professor of political management at George Washington University in Washington. “She’s taunting him. She’s the matador, he’s the bull. He has no idea what he’s doing. He’s a genius of the publicity arts, not the political arts. In this he’s an absolute novice.”

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Now 78, Pelosi’s life and career have prepared her for this battle of wills. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland, the youngest of six children and the only girl. Her father was a US congressman turned city mayor, a political education she has never forgotten. Her own daughter, Alexandra Pelosi, said recently: “She’ll cut your head off and you won’t even know you’re bleeding.”

Pelosi became a California fundraiser and party activist and was elected to Congress in 1987, the year New York wheeler-dealer Trump published The Art of the Deal. She was the first woman to become House speaker, from 2007 to 2011, and recently regained that position, putting her second in line to the presidency.

Thrice-married Trump, who once boasted about grabbing women by the private parts, relished the chance to run against a female rival, Hillary Clinton, in 2016. Then he had a two-year honeymoon in the White House as Republicans controlled the House and Senate. But now the House is in Democratic hands and Pelosi – disciplined, shrewd, unflappable and steel-spined – threatens to expose his lack of political experience.

Do you have a favourable or unfavourable opinion of Nancy Pelosi?Standfirst …UnfavourableFavourableUnsure0102030405060%01/10 201801/1101/1201/01 2019Guardian graphic | Source: Civiqs

The new balance of power became evident on 11 December when Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, met Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence in the Oval Office.

“We should not have a Trump shutdown,” said Pelosi, leaning forward on the sofa’s edge.

Trump looked up. “A what? Did you say a Trump – ?”

Had he been drinking a glass of water, it was the moment Trump would have done a spit-take. The tables had been turned, the master brander outbranded. More than a month later, the label “Trump shutdown” has clung more than any other. The president did not help himself by telling Schumer he would be “proud to shut down the government” in the name of border security.

When he claimed that “Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk right now,” she put him in his place: “Mr President, please don’t characterise the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.”

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