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For all the cold calculations in politics, for all the partisan loyalties, vote-trading and branding, it often comes down to overblown personalities.
Whether heroic or stubborn, principled or reckless, politicians at the highest level sometimes feed their considerable egos by going rogue.
What, for example, is Nancy Pelosi doing on a visit to Taiwan, which has now been essentially confirmed for Wednesday? She challenged the chairman of her own party – which makes Joe Biden look weak – and sparked what could be a military confrontation.
Even assuming that the Speaker of the House is a long-time Taiwan advocate, what will this confrontational tactic accomplish except put her center stage on the world stage?
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We already have Beijing, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province, saying it will treat Pelosi’s attempt to land a military plane as an invasion that must be repelled. The Chinese Communists are preparing to organize military exercises against Taiwan. It’s nothing less than a major diplomatic confrontation, all for a symbolic visit that brings nothing. But there’s something about Pelosi’s personality that compels him to shrug off criticism, despite some right-wing praise, and look for a spectacular landing to meet the island’s president in Taipei.
The same could be said of Joe Manchin, the conservative Democrat who has been vilified for months for refusing to budge on Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better plan or wave the filibuster to make it happen. pass a version. You have to be thick-skinned to resist that kind of pressure from your president and your party to single-handedly block the agenda that your people believed was transformational.
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The West Virginia senator said no so many times that reporters and everyone else gave up. But Manchin knows that his influence as vice president disappears on election day, when he turns into a pumpkin, as a reminder of a radical compromise. So, with a personality that drove everyone crazy, he greenlighted a $700 billion climate change bill, raising corporate taxes and supposedly lowering inflation.
But there’s another Democrat with a contrarian personality unsettling her party, and that’s Kyrsten Sinema. She clung to the filibuster even as she decimated any chance of codifying Roe v. Wade. The Arizona senator is the only person who could blow the Manchin deal, and she prolongs the drama while signaling concerns about a corporate loophole.
Sinema also knows her superpower is ending in November — does she have the guts to dump the bill Biden is already celebrating as a victory?
Another obvious candidate for the overwhelming personality is Donald Trump. Throughout his presidency, advisers and confidants have told him you can’t do this: Meet Kim Jong Un without a deal, tweet cabinet members, buy Greenland, call the media the enemy of the people. . And he would continue to do so.
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But that same pugnacious approach hasn’t always served him well. By refusing to accept the 2020 election results, by refusing to intervene in the Capitol riot for 187 minutes, by continuing to hammer an unproven ‘stolen election’, Trump is ignoring the insistence of his former assistants and his current entourage. At the same time, he has convinced a significant number of Republicans that Biden is an illegitimate president, and his base loves his fighting spirit, even when the facts show him wrong.
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You could even argue that Joe Biden’s low-key personality — rooted in a simpler, slower era when bipartisan cooperation wasn’t seen as a sin — makes him the only president who would have had the patience to finally strike a deal. with Manchin. The president doesn’t push back much, does the boring dishes on Twitter, but it’s hard to imagine Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders achieving that outcome — if in fact Sinema doesn’t pull the plug.
On paper, the policy often seems simple and straightforward. But it is the powerful personalities – who are convinced of their own self-righteousness – who, for better or for worse, change history.