Nancy Pelosi

The Real Winner of the Shutdown Might be Nancy Pelosi

The speaker's level-headed politicking will wear the president thin and keep her party popular

JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The wheels have come off the Washington bus, but this broken machine still tumbles along. Trump was always a dog-who-caught-the-car, and the government shutdown highlights his inability to operate in Washington, even on his own terms. It was inevitable that we would end up here, with the president unwilling to budge from his wall. In some small part, we probably knew it the moment that he was elected. His two campaign chants were “build the wall” and “lock her up”—and with Hillary still a free woman, he’s grasping ever-tighter onto his other three-word solution to America’s problems.

Over the past month, we’ve watched the Capitol Hill heavies shuffle over to the White House and leave without any sign of a deal to fix the stagnation in the swamp. Not even with the ultimate deal-maker in the Oval Office. After a recent meeting, Trump said the shutdown might drag on for years.

Entrenched in a shutdown was a strange way for the mass of new politicians to begin their careers last week but there they were, skittering around the halls. The press corps received a printout of the new members with their faces, names, and states—it was nearly impossible to tell one Republican from the next, almost all of them old, white and male.

When the 116th session of Congress officially began, Democrats on the floor of the House let out cheers—they officially had the majority. But their majority in Trump’s Washington gleams like a participation trophy. The government is deep into this partial shutdown, the Republican-controlled Senate has a few more years of steamrolling judges, and the left’s 2020 hopes look shaky at best with Elizabeth Warren criss-crossing Iowa and still talking about that nosedive DNA test stunt.

While it’s still “Trump’s Washington,” Pelosi’s level-headed politicking will wear the president thin and keep her own party popular among voters when 2020 finally comes.

The Democrats’ saving grace will be their general: Nancy Pelosi, who is one of the most skilled politicians playing the game. She silenced any rumors of a progressive uprising, forcing the young Congress members to fall in line while servicing none of their demands. The progressives came to Washington hell-bent on forming a powerful climate change committee, but Pelosi gave them the same useless committee that has fallen short before. They said they didn’t like her rules package; it passed easily. And the initial mumbles that it might be time for a new speaker were silenced with a ferocity that made you wonder if you ever heard those protests or if you imagined the whole thing like some Orwellian fever dream.

The young progressives are a lot different from their leader. They don’t seem to like the press—most of them spent their first week in Washington eluding us in the halls. They’re social media kingpins while Pelosi’s image is carefully pieced together to exude her own brand of badass feminism. But mostly, she’s just so much better than they are at playing this game. When one of her first-termers, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, declared during a rally last week, “We’re going to go in there and impeach the motherfucker.” Pelosi stayed quiet before saying of the outrage “If she were a man, would they be making a fuss out of it?”

And so while it’s still “Trump’s Washington,” Pelosi’s level-headed politicking will wear the president thin and, if she’s successful, keep her own party popular among voters when 2020 finally comes.

The initial mumbles that it might be time for a new speaker were silenced with a ferocity that made you wonder if you ever heard those protests or if you imagined the whole thing.

Nancy Pelosi is the sort of creature of Washington that comes around rarely. She’s as good at leading her party as Mitch McConnell, and she’s better than Chuck Schumer. She gets her hair done every morning at a swanky Georgetown salon, and now that the red-orange coat she wore that morning leaving the White House has a touch of iconography, you probably won’t spot it again until her next mic drop moment. She gives press conferences when the conversation piques, but she doesn’t make them an event. When Chuck Schumer and Donald Trump were arguing like New York City cabbies in the Oval Office, it was Nancy Pelosi who told them to cut it out in front of the cameras.

The right-wing talking heads will attack her for the next term, but they have been for years. They dedicate segments that turn into rants about her. When their punches don’t land, they resort to bullshit conspiracy theories like accusing her of funding the migrant caravan or whatever Alex Jones’ latest line of nonsense happens to be. And still she trudges along, putting Washington in order as she desires. Each moment manufactured with each of her actors in line, Pelosi is more director than politician.

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Alex Thomas
Alex Thomas
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