Trump's troll-in-chief? Once again, Nancy Pelosi bites back

Poppy Noor in New York
Photograph: White House/Reuters

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words – but for Nancy Pelosi, one photo has had even more traction than that.

When Donald Trump tweeted a photo of Pelosi standing tall in a room full of men, pointing the finger at him, he didn’t seem to get the subtext. “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!” he tweeted.

But what came next was the latest example of Pelosi flipping the script on Trump: she uploaded the photo – in which she towers over Trump with her eyebrows raised – as her Twitter cover photo.

It is just one example of the House speaker’s uncanny ability to use the president’s own rhetoric against him. (Greta Thunberg deployed a similar trick last month when she changed her Twitter bio to quote Trump’s mockery of her.) Pelosi’s quick-fire – or perhaps cynical? – wit gets under the president’s skin and has drawn in many admirers (even, in this case, Bill Kristol). Here are other times she turned the tables:

1 The slow clap

Pelosi stole the limelight from Trump during his State of the Union speech, punctuating his speech with animated eye-rolls and, at one point, flicking through paperwork while he spoke. But her standout moment came when, as the president spoke out against the “politics of revenge”, Pelosi stood to give him a slow, demeaning clap.

The optics were completely on point – with Pelosi looking down on Trump, arms reached out and her lips all puckered up. The clap became the jump-pad for a million memes of similar exaggerated praise, with captions such as “when a guy on Tinder tells you he’s read a TON of books by women” and “when I tell my wife I changed a diaper”. Great job, hon.

2 The air-quotes

September was a dreary, dreary month. As reports circulated showing that there had been more shootings than days in 2019, people were growing restless over government inaction.

Then, at a press conference, when Pelosi was asked about Trump’s plans on gun reform, she quipped “you want me to tell you what goes on in the presidents… ‘mind’?” – bracketing the word slowly and carefully with hooked fingers.

3 ‘Send her back’

July was a particularly racist month for Trump, who targeted four congresswomen of color – Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib – saying they should “go back” to where they came from. The four women are all US citizens. Omar has lived in the US for most of her life, having migrated as a Somalian refugee when she was eight, which many pointed out is longer than the president’s own wife.

Then, at a rally in North Carolina when Trump repeated misleading claims about Omar’s comments on al-Qaida, he was received by chants of “send her back”.

Nancy Pelosi wasn’t going to let him off the hook, however. During a congressional trip to Uganda, Pelosi and Omar posed for a photoshoot, two holding hands in front of a memorial to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Omar captioned it: “They said ‘send her back’ but Speaker @SpeakerPelosi didn’t just make arrangements to send me back, she went back with me,” adding: “So grateful for the honor to return to Mother Africa.”

4. The orange coat

Chuck Schumer,Nancy PelosiHouse Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of N.Y., left, walk out of the West Wing to speak to members of the media outside of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, following a meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

When the Democrats won the house in the 2018 midterms, something dawned on Trump: funding his golden pledge – a border wall with Mexico – wasn’t going to be easy. In December, he threatened to shut down the government if the Democrats didn’t comply.

Pelosi called his bluff. A televised shouting match between the two ensued, which ended in Trump committing to the shutdown.

The Democrats took it as a victory – and proof of the president’s astonishing ability to repeatedly cut off his own nose to spite his face.

The real win, however, was the shot of Pelosi walking out of the meeting moments after, smirking in sunglasses and a big coral coat.

As the Boston Globe put it at the time, she was channeling some “serious big coat energy”.