All eyes will be on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who will be sitting behind President Trump when he delivers his State of the Union address tonight. Her caucus, particularly those members elected this past November, wants open combat and to function as a constant Democrat resistance. Many in her caucus will expect her to somehow demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the president. The speaker should resist all that and mostly do nothing. She should give Trump a hearty handshake, smile, nod and applaud when appropriate. That’s it.
The fact is the half-life of any State of the Union address is very short for any president. But for Trump it will likely be even shorter. A good moment in the Trump presidency can last just a nanosecond before the president goes off-message and steps on his own success.
Pelosi knows how quickly Trump can turn a positive moment sour. The freshman class of House Democrats, however, tend to be somewhat Trumpesque in that they take the bait from opponents or the media and overreact. Today’s Democrats are only playing to an internal, partisan Democratic audience instead of keeping the bigger picture and general-election voter in mind.
Pelosi was elected speaker by striking a bargain with the new insatiable, outraged, neo-socialist wing within her own caucus. They want noise and protest. They want to demonstrate outrage. These Democrats can overreach and become the issue — and in Trump’s Washington, that is hard to do. No matter what they would prefer she do, even if they fail to appreciate it at the time, the speaker has an obligation to do what is best for them. That requires Pelosi to be poised and mature even if the newcomers in her caucus are emotional and half-cocked.
The speaker of the House speaks for his or her political party, but beyond that, they also speak for Congress. For Pelosi, that means ignoring calls and temptation for unnecessary disruption. Trump thinks you have to win every segment of every news cycle, and plenty of Democrats react to his taunts. It will be interesting to see whether Pelosi can lead this new caucus toward a more seasoned long-term view. The urge to instantly bash Trump and feign outrage at anything and everything he has done should be suppressed if, from the Democrats' perspective, for no other reason than to let the State of the Union last only a moment before the president gets back to tweeting.