President Trump sold himself to the public as a hypermasculine deal-maker, capable of getting things done and striking back. That’s why last week’s events — in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) won the fight over the partial government shutdown — have been a major blow to the president’s image.
In a tentative deal released Friday afternoon, Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks, even though he got no money for the wall. That’s a victory for Pelosi, who had called the whole wall conceit “immoral” and said Democrats would not authorize any money for the project.
“The president’s supporters imagine he is a manly man and a master negotiator (shirt seen at Trump rally: ‘Finally someone with balls’),” Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in The Washington Post. “But he has been outmaneuvered and outmuscled at every turn by a 78-year-old grandmother from San Francisco.”
Pelosi has managed to question Trump’s manhood, assert her own power and compare the president to a toddler during her first few weeks as speaker. “A temper tantrum by the president” is how Pelosi described Trump’s behavior earlier this month. “I’m a mother of five, grandmother of nine. I know a temper tantrum when I see one.”
Pelosi’s ability to handle Trump may also have to do with the particulars of her role.
“The women of Trumpworld have a single role, and that is to say ‘yes.’ Trump has long bought and paid for that acquiescence. Now, Pelosi is telling him no, and she has real power and can’t be ignored, replaced or waved away,” Jill Filipovic, the author of “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness,” wrote in the Guardian. “They aren’t in direct competition (as he was with Clinton and Fiorina), so he is less able to leverage more generalized public sexism to win his battle against her.”
According to a just-released Washington Post-ABC News poll, 58 percent of Americans hold Trump and congressional Republicans most responsible for the government shutdown. The president’s overall popularity has tumbled, too, to 37 percent of the public approving of his job performance and 58 percent disapproving.
Part of Trump’s challenge throughout the shutdown fight was effectively attacking Pelosi. The president, notoriously good at coming up with demeaning nicknames, struggled to say much against Pelosi, or “Nancy,” as he calls her.
“He knows how to emasculate men and he assumes that will work, and he knows how to attempt to shame women around their appearance, but he doesn’t have a useful weapon in this relationship,” Michael D’Antonio, the author of “The Truth About Trump,” told the New York Times. “He has yet to give her a nickname, he has yet to criticize her appearance, and I think he knows that would be very risky for him to do.”