House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wasn’t just mad at President Trump last night when she tore up a paper copy of his State of the Union message on national television. She was also probably mad at herself and her fellow Democrats as well for being outmaneuvered by the ostentatiously theatrical president. The man her party impeached just two months ago is now about to be acquitted, has a record-high 49 percent approval rating and could well win reelection and even endanger her House majority.
What a difference a year makes. At last year’s State of the Union, Pelosi was riding high. Democrats had just retaken the House, emerged victorious from a government shutdown and Pelosi had an iron grip over her fellow House Democrats. She mocked Trump last year, snickering as she gave him a sarcastic sideways clap.
Pelosi knows the game of politics better than almost anyone else in Washington, being the daughter of a machine mayor of Baltimore and a House member for over 30 years. For months, she wisely resisted calls for impeachment last year. She told the Washington Post last March:
“I’m not for impeachment. Unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country And he’s just not worth it.”
Pelosi appeared to be vindicated in her caution when the Mueller Report was released a couple of weeks later and proved to be a political dry-hole for Democrats.
But then in September came the revelations that President Trump had foolishly mixed domestic politics with diplomacy in seeking an investigation of Hunter Biden’s suspicious business dealings in Ukraine.
Nonetheless, Pelosi initially resisted new calls from her base for Trump’s impeachment. She worried that it overshadowed her party’s efforts to focus on the healthcare and other pocketbook issues she believed won Democrats the House. Impeachment would put the focus on Trump and his personality - a playing field where Democrats often act irrationally.
But with over 80 percent of Democratic voters favoring impeachment, Pelosi finally gave in and began to lose her footing. In November, she explicitly accused President Trump of “bribery,” and then pushed through two articles of impeachment that didn’t mention the issue. The sloppy and rushed impeachment articles passed the House in December and then Pelosi withheld sending the articles to the Senate for a month, almost as if she realized how thin they were.
After a Senate trial during which President Trump’s numbers only went up, Pelosi sat in the Speaker’s chair last night realizing that Democrats had lost political momentum to Trump. She grimaced throughout the speech, shook her head and refused to even applaud a fourth-grader in the audience who was awarded a scholarship so she attends a better school.
After she was captured ripping up Trump’s speech on national TV, Pelosi explained her action as “the courteous thing to do considering the alternatives.” For political observers, it looked more like an exercise in frustration by a political leader who rejected a smarter alternative in resisting impeachment. Now she and her party have surrendered the upper hand to President Trump.