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Adrian Walker

Ayanna Pressley has done more than weather Trump’s attacks. She’s winning

Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston spoke as she held a press conference Monday with Democratic colleagues Ilhan Omar (left), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib at the US Capitol.
Representative Ayanna Pressley of Boston spoke as she held a press conference Monday with Democratic colleagues Ilhan Omar (left), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib at the US Capitol.(BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Ayanna Pressley was steely and forceful Monday afternoon as she led off the response by four Democratic congresswomen who have been taking Twitter fire from President Trump.

No drama or personal attacks, just a firm insistence that she and her colleagues would not be intimidated by attacks against their patriotism or their right to be heard.

“This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people,” Pressley declared.

Pressley is not the member of the so-called Squad who has attracted the most national attention in their short time on Capitol Hill. But she was the most effective at countering Trump’s decidedly unpresidential behavior.

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That came as no surprise to those who have watched her rise as a force in Massachusetts politics.

“This is Ayanna — she speaks with reason and heart and compassion, and Ayanna tells it like it is,” said Attorney General Maura Healey. “She is so eloquent, and such a force with her voice. It comes from her heart and her head and real-life experience.”

Her unexpected turn as a foil of Trump’s began Sunday morning, when Trump began tweeting about Pressley and fellow freshmen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. In a tweetstorm that had yet to abate Tuesday, he told these four elected representative to “go back” to the countries they came from, and claimed that they “hate” America. In fact, they are all Americans, and three of them were born in the United States.

The Democrats’ response began, in full, with a news conference Monday. She and the three members of the Squad became the public face of their party in the latest chapter of the Trump presidency.

And Pressley, who a year ago was waging a longshot bid to unseat veteran Representative Michael Capuano, was in the lead photo on news outlets across the US.

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Trump’s tweets had set off an instant controversy — perhaps deliberately — and sparked a national debate about whether a racist occupies the White House. (Answer: yes.) Democrats who had been divided rallied around their colleagues and drafted a resolution condemning Trump. Republicans were mostly on mute. Analysts debated whether this was all part of a political strategy for Trump, and whether it would fire up his base.

As Pressley suggested in an interview Sunday, it was just another crazy episode under this crazy administration.

While Pressley and her allies are often lumped together in the media, they are, of course, their own people. Sure, they are all new to Congress, but Pressley is hardly new to politics. That experience shows. She has shown an ability to navigate within the House without drawing the personal rancor that some other members of the Squad have .

“There are real distinctions between them,” Healey noted. “Ayanna has been in political life a long time, starting with her work in Senator Kerry’s office to her many years on the Boston City Council. She is strategic, she is smart, and the kind of leader who leads with her head and heart and it resonates with people, not just in Massachusetts, but in the country.”

Indeed, serving as a city councilor under Tom Menino was probably good training for serving under an equally iron-fisted House speaker in Nancy Pelosi. and Pressley’s experience in a legislative body probably explains why she doesn’t attack colleagues who disagree with her or threaten to help run them out of Washington someday.

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If Trump wanted to incite his base, he may well have succeeded. But no president of modern times has worked so hard to push away people who didn’t vote for him. I think many of them won’t take kindly to the idea that people who disagree with Trump should just leave the country or buy the truly un-American proposition that disliking this president somehow amounts to hating America.

“Donald Trump is racist and he is sexist,” Healey said. “Maybe this is part of a ploy to divide the Democratic Party. I think that’s backfiring — you see the Democratic Party uniting. There’s one thing that we’re really clear about that we stand up to racism, we stand up to this kind of bullying and this debasement of our values and who we are.”

Pressley would like nothing more than to get back to the work she was elected to do, Mayor Marty Walsh told me Tuesday after speaking to her.

“I think she basically said her piece (Monday) and said she’s going to go on and do the work of her constituents,” Walsh said. “I think it doesn’t do her any good to get in a down-and-dirty Twitter fight with this guy. My advice to her now is, he’ll pick on someone else tomorrow.”

No one can say with certainty that Trump’s racist and xenophobic rhetoric can’t carry him to re-election. But if eloquence and logic outmatch racist and ignorant appeals, the president has clearly been outshone by a freshman congresswoman from Boston. That hardly strikes me as a stroke of strategic political genius on his part.

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“I think they should respond by continuing to do their work, continuing to represent their districts and advocating for the policies they ran on, and continuing to fight against injustice and intolerance when they see it,” Healey said. “I know that is what Ayanna Pressley is going to do.”


Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. E-mail him at adrian.walker@globe.com. Or follow him on Twitter @adrian_walker.