Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Pelosi takes Trump and Washington to school

Credit: Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; file photos
Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; file photos
For every woman who was ever marginalized as too old or too young, too pushy, or too shrill — Nancy Pelosi showed the world the folly of such thinking.Credit:

Tell us again, Seth Moulton — why shouldn’t Nancy Pelosi be speaker of the House?

Pelosi just schooled Washington on what it takes to handle President Trump. After the longest shutdown in US history, Trump agreed to fund the government for three weeks — with zero money for the border wall that Pelosi called “immoral.” What happens next will test her conviction on that matter. But Trump’s capitulation to the speaker he calls “Nancy” shows that leadership comes in all styles and coat colors and isn’t determined by age or gender.

For every woman who was ever marginalized as too old or too young, too pushy, or too shrill — Pelosi showed the world the folly of such thinking. The veteran lawmaker whose foes like to dismiss as a 78-year-old grandmother managed to vanquish the bully who first crushed Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush, and then emasculated Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Unlike Lindsey Graham, Pelosi said “no” to Trump and stood her ground, no matter how much he huffed, puffed, and tweeted. Icing on the cake: She looked good while doing it.

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But first she stared down doubters in her own party. A contingent of congressional Democrats, whose leaders included Moulton, of Massachusetts’ Sixth District, argued the party needed a fresh face and message. There’s merit in their call for reforms that give younger, less senior Democrats a quicker path to power and influence in Congress. But targeting Pelosi without presenting an alternative or rationale besides that it was time for her to go, left an aftertaste of ageism and sexism. In the end, her challengers overplayed a hand they never had. They retreated, just like Trump.

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Now, imagine if those rebel Democrats had somehow succeeded in denying Pelosi the speakership. What new, untested successor could have stood up to the president the way Pelosi did? When Trump — knowing she faced an intra-party challenge — said during their now-famous December Oval Office meeting, “Nancy’s in a situation where it’s not easy for her to talk,” she fearlessly fired back: “Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength I bring to this meeting.” From that point on, she showed Trump how leadership works, by uniting Democrats behind a cause they could believe in: no negotiations on border security until the government was reopened. Keeping that coalition together will be Pelosi’s next leadership challenge.

She risked pettiness by suggesting Trump shouldn’t deliver a State of the Union address as long as the shutdown continued. But then Trump, being Trump, looked even more petty when he said she couldn’t use military aircraft for a planned trip to Afghanistan. When Trump threatened to show up anyway for his speech, she said no. Not daring to cross her, he caved.

Pelosi’s hand was strengthened by Trump’s out-to-lunch Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who didn’t understand why furloughed federal workers were using food banks instead of getting bank loans. Trump helped her, too, when he suggested that federal workers who had no money to buy food could tell grocery stores they would pay them later.

Ultimately, Trump was defeated by his own ignorance and arrogance and by Pelosi’s ability to exploit both. In the private sector, Trump could bully his way to a deal. Negotiating with a coequal branch of government, with Democrats now controlling the House, was a foreign concept to him. But not to Pelosi, who understands government and power and how to leverage one to make the other work. That takes wisdom, experience, and the ability to block out critics from whatever party they hail.

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The deal to end the shutdown was “great news,” Moulton tweeted on Friday.

For the country — and for Pelosi.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.