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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) addresses a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., Feb. 5, 2020.

JOSHUA ROBERTS/Reuters

It was the rip heard around the world.

After containing her revulsion throughout Donald Trump’s superlatively self-congratulatory State of the Union address on Tuesday night, Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered her verdict on the President’s “manifesto of mistruths” (her words) by summarily tearing up a copy of said speech on live television.

Within minutes, the hashtag #NancyTheRipper was trending, and Trump supporters were spewing on Twitter. The Speaker “disgraced herself, her title, the U.S. Congress and our great country with this disgusting response,” Republican congressman Lee Zeldin tweeted in one of the tamer manifestations of GOP hypocrisy. On Fox News, Texas Senator Ted Cruz accused Ms. Pelosi of showing “contempt for America.”

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Mr. Trump disgraces his office and country on an hourly basis without so much as a peep of indignation from Republicans, save for (bless their souls) Senators Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, alone in retaining their dignity amid the Trump sycophants in their party.

To be sure, House Democrats overplayed their hand by attempting to unseat Mr. Trump in an impeachment process that smacked of desperation. No matter how guilty you believe Mr. Trump is of trying to blackmail Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky into opening a corruption investigation involving Joe Biden, Democrats failed to meet the burden of proof needed to remove a president from office.

There was, after all, no DNA evidence establishing Mr. Trump’s guilt.

Ms. Pelosi had been reluctant to go down the impeachment path, knowing the risks for her party and country. Democrats were accused of overreaching, having missed their chance for impeaching Mr. Trump when Special Counsel Robert Mueller declined to charge Mr. Trump with obstruction in his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander underscored the biggest risk of them all last week, in announcing that he would vote against calling witnesses in Mr. Trump’s Senate trial: “If this shallow, hurried and wholly partisan impeachment were to succeed, it would rip the country apart, pouring gasoline on the fire of cultural divisions that already exist.”

That did not stop Mr. Trump from using Tuesday night’s speech to douse gasoline on that fire by awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a cancer-stricken Rush Limbaugh. Ill or not, such honours are not typically bestowed on race-baiting conservative talk-show hosts. Even more galling, Mr. Trump’s gesture toward Mr. Limbaugh came only moments after he had honoured one of the last surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen, a legendary group of African-American U.S. Air Force pilots who fought in the Second World War.

Still, in ripping up Mr. Trump’s speech, you have to believe that Ms. Pelosi was expressing her frustration not so much at its contents – after all, there is nothing particularly novel about a president weaponizing a State of the Union address – as at the comedy of errors performed by her party in the countdown to a presidential election.

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The Democrats’ digital debacle in Monday’s Iowa caucuses will not soon be lost on the broader American electorate – Mr. Trump will make sure of that. “Nothing works, just like [when] they ran the Country,” he tweeted, recalling the technical glitches Americans encountered in trying to sign up for insurance under then-president Barack Obama’s health-care-reform law in 2013.

If the party that promises “more government” can’t administer an election in a tiny Midwestern state, how can Americans ever trust it to replace their comprehensive (albeit costly) private insurance with a public plan that may or may not cost less but will deprive them of choices? “We will never let socialism destroy American health care,” Mr. Trump vowed in his speech.

That could well end up becoming the defining issue of the 2020 presidential race, especially if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders emerges as the Democratic nominee. While Pete Buttigieg has some momentum coming out of Iowa, and Mike Bloomberg hopes to buy his way to a breakthrough on Super Tuesday next month, Mr. Sanders is counting on a big win in next week’s New Hampshire primary to seal the deal before then.

Mr. Trump, who held an off-the-record lunch with news anchors on Tuesday, reportedly told them he considers Mr. Sanders to be “nastier and smarter” than any other potential Democratic nominee. But he knows that Mr. Sanders’s Medicare-for-All plan, which is too radical for most voters, is the surest ticket to his own re-election. So does Ms. Pelosi.

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