July 21st, 2024


Trump's letter to Pelosi accomplished its main goal: owning the libs

Philip Bump

By Philip Bump The Washington Post

Published Jan. 18, 2019

Trump's letter to Pelosi accomplished its main goal: owning the libs

  Oliver Contreras for The Washington Post
Members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., were reportedly on their way to the airport for a trip to Europe and the Middle East when a message came from the White House: President Donald Trump was canceling their journey. The bus carrying members for the flight to Brussels returned to Capitol Hill.

The move was widely and understandably seen as retribution by Trump for a letter Pelosi sent to him Wednesday, requesting that he postpone the State of the Union address, given the ongoing government shutdown and the security demands of the elaborate plans that speech often entails. This was the ostensible rationale behind Trump's move, too.

"In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure that you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate," Trump wrote. He suggested that she not leave for a week, so the shutdown might be resolved more quickly.

A spokesman for Pelosi quickly pointed out both that the trip wasn't going to be a week long and that, contrary to Trump's assertion in the letter, there was no planned stop in Egypt.

But none of this was the point of Trump's letter. He wasn't concerned about Pelosi being gone for a week or where she was going. He wasn't clipping her wings - the Democrats' collective wings - because he was worried about the shutdown. He did it for the same reason he's done a lot of aggressive, unusual things that he's done since declaring his candidacy in 2015.

He did it to throw a punch at his opponents.

Trump's candidacy and his presidency are largely predicated on being the guy who picks the fights that commentators in conservative media say should be picked. The appeal of "owning the libs" - smacking down liberal political opponents or, more broadly, the elitists with whom the liberal population is believed to overlap - has enormous traction in some circles, including in much of Trump's base.

During the Republican primary, he was the guy willing to bash former President George W. Bush. He was the guy willing to disparage former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as out of touch. He was the guy willing to say the things about immigration that you'd otherwise only hear from Laura Ingraham or on Breitbart. His politics were born of that environment, born of immersion in Fox News in particular, and his political approach - unmoored by existing relationships on Capitol Hill - reflected it.

It was an enormously helpful part of his general election bid, too. His disparagements of Hillary Clinton were unusually nasty and virulent, the sorts of things that guys sitting on their couches would yell at the TV when Sean Hannity mentioned Clinton in a segment.

Trump does things because they will annoy Democrats, and many people love it. His tweets of disparagement, however juvenile, are celebrated among many of his supporters. His reference to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., on Twitter, where he replaced the two F's with two T's? Hilarious. That Schiff was on that bus that got turned around Thursday was not lost on members of Trump's base.

Obviously Trump's letter to Pelosi was retributive. Obviously is was meant to frustrate her. But it is of a piece with his overall approach to his political opponents.

Consider the reaction of Erick Erickson, a conservative commentator whose relationship with Trump's presidency has run more cold than hot. His reaction to Trump's letter to Pelosi came in a blog post that consisted of a headline, a picture and three sentences. The headline was "This Letter From Trump to Pelosi May Be the Greatest Letter of His Presidency." The third sentence was "His letter is hilarious." The image was a large, laughing face.

This is how Trump does politics. He may not do everything that his base would wish, but he at least fights against the people they hate. That's often good enough, as it was for Erickson on Thursday.

The New York Times' Patricia Mazzei went to Florida earlier this month to talk to residents about the shutdown. There she spoke to Crystal Minton, who'd voted for Trump in 2016 but who was both recovering from a hurricane and working without pay at a federal prison facility. She was understandably frustrated.

"I voted for him, and he's the one who's doing this," she told Mazzei. "I thought he was going to do good things. He's not hurting the people he needs to be hurting."

The people he needs to be hurting, no doubt, are people like Pelosi.

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