Coach Pelosi

I attended a basketball game last night and missed all but the closing moments of President Trump’s address. A friend emailed me to say that Nancy Pelosi was sending “baseball signs” to “her team” — in other words, signaling to House Democrats how to respond to some of what Trump was saying.

Upon further review, my friend is right. For example, Pelosi signaled Dems to stop booing Trump when he spoke about a caravan heading towards our southern border. The booing duly stopped.

At another point, she signaled for Democrats to stand up. Most complied.

(There might have been other, more subtle signals. A touch to the ear here, a toss of the hair there, and some shuffling papers. Maybe this was just nervousness, though).

I don’t recall ever seeing a House Speaker “coaching up” her party’s members during the state of the union address. On the other hand, I don’t recall a House majority caucus being as immature as the current crop of Democrats.

Something else was going on, I suspect. Last night, President Trump kept putting Democrats in a box. They could stand and/or applaud his lines about unity, American greatness and traditional values, or they could sit on their hands. Many congressional Democrats reject the concept of American greatness and some of our traditional values (and they think, not without cause, that Trump’s calls for unity are hypocritical).

These Dems had to decide whether to demonstrate their rejection on national television. Pelosi recognized the dilemma and tried to guide her caucus. It was a sensible thing for her to do, but it looked strange. In the end, moreover, Pelosi could not fully save the Democrats from themselves.

Expect Trump to put his opponent in the 2020 election in the same box. Barack Obama faced a similar problem in 2008, but benefited from (1) John McCain’s unwillingness, for the most part, to play hard ball and (2) his own extraordinary nimbleness.

Trump will play hard ball, and some of the leading contenders for the Democratic nomination don’t appear terribly nimble.