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When it comes to negotiating with Trump, Nancy Pelosi has an advantage

She’s a woman.

Donald Trump and Mike Pence meeting with congressional leaders, including Nancy Pelosi
Donald Trump and Mike Pence meeting with congressional leaders, including Nancy Pelosi.
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images
Anna North is a senior correspondent for Vox, where she covers American family life, work, and education. Previously, she was an editor and writer at the New York Times. She is also the author of three novels, including the New York Times bestseller Outlawed.

Donald Trump doesn’t like to be told how to use Twitter. You can tell, because he keeps tweeting about it.

But on Thursday, the president apparently made an exception. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, asked him to tweet reassurance to DACA recipients worried they would be targeted for deportation in the next six months. And, in Pelosi’s words, “boom, boom, the tweet appeared.”

Trump didn’t do a particularly good job with her request. As Vox’s Dara Lind points out, the tweet is extremely misleading, as the government is actually taking action to phase out DACA right away, and recipients who are eligible for renewal need to apply by October 5 or risk losing their protections.

But Pelosi this week demonstrated she’s doing something the Republican leadership seems to be failing at — she’s keeping her party unified and maintaining a strategic open line to the president. One possible reason she’s finding success where Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are failing: She’s a woman.

Thursday’s tweet points to a larger pattern: Trump’s bullying and blustering don’t work as well on women as they do on men.

Trump’s whole strategy is about domination — which tends to backfire with women

In the primary debates, Trump tried to convince voters — and his opponents — that he was the biggest man on the stage. He called Marco Rubio “little Marco.” He bragged about the size of his hands and “something else.” He claimed that Mitt Romney “begged” him for an endorsement in 2012 and would have “dropped to his knees” to get one.

That strategy worked well enough to get Trump the Republican presidential nomination, and he employed it all the way through the general election campaign and into the Oval Office. He’s spent his presidency bullying or attempting to bully everyone from Dean Heller to the government of North Korea. He even seems to bully some people for no reason, like Chris Christie. But his approach has suffered a few notable setbacks, many involving women.

In his debates with Hillary Clinton, Trump tried the same approach he’d used on Rubio et al. — he loomed behind her, interrupted her, and essentially threatened to put her in jail.

But Trump’s bullying wasn’t particularly effective against Clinton. When he tried to play the big man, she laughed at him. Like many women, she was used to people interrupting and trying to intimidate her, and she soldiered on through his various antics. According to CNN/ORC polls, Clinton won all three debates.

Of course, that wasn’t enough to win her the presidency, but it was a sign that Trump’s strongman act, honed in the boardrooms of corporate America and, perhaps, at the military academy where he attended boarding school, might have a weak spot. Techniques developed to threaten other men’s masculinity may be a bit less effective on women.

During the health care debate this summer, Trump tried and failed to intimidate Sen. Lisa Murkowski, tweeting at her and reportedly enlisting Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior, to threaten retaliation against her state if she voted against the Senate’s Obamacare repeal bill. She didn’t budge. Murkowski had a lot of reasons to vote no on repeal, including the interests of her Alaska Native constituents. But other legislators have caved to Trump’s whims when they have every reason not to do so.

Trump does have some specific tricks for dealing with female opponents, but they don’t work particularly well. Perhaps drawing on his time as a pageant judge, he likes to evaluate women’s appearances — he said he didn’t like the way Hillary Clinton looked from behind, and described the Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski as “bleeding badly” from a face lift. Such insults may play well with Trump’s most misogynistic supporters, but they don’t tend to do much to their targets — Brzezinski told Vanity Fair she laughed when she read the president’s tweet about her face lift. Pageant contestants’ jobs may depend on Trump’s view of their attractiveness, but Mika Brzezinski’s doesn’t — and certainly women who have spent decades in and around government, like Hillary Clinton, have gotten used to sophomoric barbs about their looks and care little whether Donald Trump thinks they are sexy.

Which brings us back to Pelosi. We don’t know why she succeeded where even Trump’s own staff has failed — influencing Trump’s Twitter behavior.

But we do know that little in Trump’s past has truly prepared him for negotiating with women as equals. Surely he’s faced some female CEOs in his day, but in the male-dominated commercial real estate and entertainment businesses, he probably hasn’t had the opportunity to practice “the art of the deal” with very many women at or near his level. Maybe he’s a little scared.

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