If Donald Trump has indeed modelled his presidency on a reality TV show, as it seems on most days, it is fitting that the newest plot twist involves Washington’s greatest survivor.
Nancy Pelosi, who now seems poised to recapture the House of Representatives Speaker’s job she lost in 2010, is not someone you should ever underestimate. Anyone who has watched her lead the House Democratic conference (the U.S. term for caucus) since 2002 knows that.
So does Mr. Trump. He genuinely seems to be looking forward to working and/or doing battle with Ms. Pelosi. He knows it will be good for his ratings if he can compromise with House Democrats to lower prescription-drug prices and boost infrastructure spending. And if some righteous Democrats try to subpoena his tax returns or investigate his Russian business dealings, well, he figures the “warlike posture” he vows to adopt in response will be good for his ratings, too.
Mr. Trump knows a fighter when he sees one. And in Ms. Pelosi, the 78-year-old San Francisco (via hardscrabble Baltimore) liberal, is one of the best fighters modern Washington has seen. She deserves most of the credit (and blame) for the Democratic health-care bill that passed Congress in 2010 under former president Barack Obama. Obamacare should really be called Pelosicare.
The health-care bill that cost Democrats the House in 2010, as Tea Party Republicans attacked Obamacare as a socialist plot, helped them regain it this year. Ms. Pelosi focused the party’s campaign efforts in key districts not on Mr. Trump, but on protecting popular elements of Obamacare, including its provision that prohibits insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Polls showed health care was the No. 1 issue in House races.
Plenty of progressive Democrats don’t think Ms. Pelosi is progressive enough to lead the resistance to Mr. Trump. But she knows better than they do that the biggest threat facing their party is not the President, but the rambunctious new Democrats who look to senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for leadership. Ms. Pelosi also knows that any attempt by House Democrats to try to impeach Mr. Trump – as justified as it as may be – would likely backfire on them. She should know, having been in the House long enough to remember Republicans' impeachment of Bill Clinton.
That’s not the only reason Mr. Trump wants her to become speaker again. “I think she deserves it,” he said on Wednesday. “She’s fought long and hard, she’s a very capable person, and you know, you have other people shooting at her trying to take over the speakership.”
To which Ms. Pelosi replied, during her own post-midterms news conference that day: “I don’t think anybody deserves anything. It’s not about what you have done, it’s what you can do. And I think I’m the best person to go forward, to unify, to negotiate.”
Negotiate is a word Mr. Trump understands, or at least thinks he does. He may be in for a surprise, given Ms. Pelosi’s political skills. But both know that newly elected Democrats from swing districts in the suburbs will lose their seats in 2020 if their party moves too far to the left. CNN exit polls showed that the midterm suburban vote was equally split between Democrats and Republicans, in a year that favoured Democratic turnout. GOP turnout will likely rise in 2020 if Mr. Trump is on the ballot, with independent voters crowning the winner.
Until then, Mr. Trump will be relieved to see the departure of current House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who did not run for re-election because he had grown weary of having to pretend to be the President’s ally. Ms. Pelosi faces none of Mr. Ryan’s inner conflicts. She can do a deal with the Trump White House on any given Monday and go to battle against the President on Tuesday.
A damning report by special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged collusion by members of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and Russian agents would see the Pelosi-Trump working relationship go downhill fast. But barring that, or Mr. Mueller’s firing, she can work with the President.
If Ms. Pelosi does become Speaker again, she will become the first person to lose and regain the post since the legendary Texas Democrat Sam Rayburn, after whom the Capitol Hill building that houses the offices of House members is named. Some day, they’ll name a building after Ms. Pelosi, but not before she gets another crack at doing the job she deserves. She’s earned it.