Ann Wagner certainly knows how to put Donald Trump in his place.
You may have heard that the president last week stirred a bit of a hornet's nest by tweeting that four of Wagner's fellow female congresswomen — her colleagues and sisters — should "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." It prompted "Send Her Back!" chants at a Trump rally, which a smirking president allowed to rain down from his supporters for 13 seconds.
Well, you don't want to be messing with Fighting Ann's girls like that. Why, she was apoplectic. Let me give you a sampling of the bold words and headlines that Wagner (R-Ballwin) aimed directly, by name, at Donald J. Trump.
"The vernacular, especially toward women, I found to be very demeaning and Neanderthal to be perfectly honest," Wagner told an audience of 100 women in response to Trump's slurs. "People are sick of the politically correct thing, but you can go too far, and I don't believe we should be kicking every sector of people around, women and those who are immigrants."
Yes, you've got to hand it to Ann Wagner — that really was a bold choice of words, and it got her some national attention: "Missouri lawmaker calls Donald Trump's position on women 'Neanderthal,'" proclaimed a headline as far away as the Mobile, Alabama, Real-Time News.
Now, I realize you might not have seen this precise coverage, and if you're confused, perhaps I should clarify. These specific words were stated by Wagner in specific criticism, by name, of Trump, on the specific occasion of his hurling ugly insults at women.
But I've taken a small poetic license here. These words were stated by Wagner on August 27, 2015 — less than four years ago — after Trump said of then-Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly: "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her ... wherever."
In Trump's defense, he had been annoyed by Kelly prefacing a debate question with, "You've called women you don't like 'fat pigs,' 'dogs,' 'slobs' and 'disgusting animals,'" to which Trump quipped, "Only Rosie O'Donnell."
Yes, the aforementioned counterattack was made by Wagner — specifically against Trump, by name — in an Alabama speech that was ironically billed, according to the media coverage, as "encouraging women to take chances and be leaders."
Those words would have worked pretty well if Wagner had chosen to take a chance and be a leader last week after Trump made far uglier — and not at all humorous — racist attacks on Democratic Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
But for some reason, Wagner's outrage was a tad more muted this time. For one thing, she forgot to mention Trump by name, unlike she did in her Alabama speech. And after tweeting nothing in response to his tweet, and issuing no press release, all Wagner could bring herself to observe — in an email to KMOX — was that she was "disappointed at the lack of civility and respect coming from both sides of the aisle."
Of course, of course. "Both sides" are the problem, just like they were in Charlottesville, right? Now, Wagner did tilt her withering condemnation of Trump just a tad toward one of the "sides," noting "Democrats need to be held accountable for their socialist policies and seemingly outright contempt for the ideals on which America was founded." Lovely.
Wagner essentially identified the "real" problem: Four elected American citizens, women of color, essentially brought "send her back" chants upon themselves by having been so anti-American as to disagree openly with the world according to Republicans like Wagner and her new BFF, Trump.
But let's be fair here: Wagner also had some pretty tough love for her president, albeit in a searing statement in which she forgot to mention his name.
"We can disagree with one another on policy without resorting to name calling and other comments that make many Americans feel unwelcome in the nation they call home," Wagner's email statement raged, in a slightly audible electronic whisper (emphasis added by me because I was so knocked out by its emotion).
Come on, Ann. Lighten up on the poor guy. This is akin to presidential harassment (as in "todd akin"). It's a good thing Wagner took a deep breath and brought all this pandemonium down enough to vote the next day against a House resolution condemning Trump's racist tweet as racist. Ever the voice of reason, Wagner said she voted "no" because the measure was "counterproductive," fostering division, not the unity our nation needs, according to KMOX.
I'll agree with that. We need unity. That's why it's nice when a congresswoman like Wagner can use her Twitter account to celebrate our nation's Independence Day on July 4. Or to proclaim, three days later, our pride and unity when the U.S. Women's National Soccer Team won the coveted World Cup.
Oh, wait. Somehow, the congresswoman missed that opportunity for a statement of unity. It seems as though she made no mention at all of the U.S. team's great victory. Not a tweet, nor a retweet (like one on Sen. Roy Blunt's account, but, of course not Sen. Josh Hawley's).
Maybe it was an oversight that the first woman to chair the Missouri Republican Party forgot to shout out this accomplishment that inspired so many girls and women, and the rest of us. But one seriously doubts it. Far more likely, this was another case of a Republican "leader" being so fearful of Supreme Leader Trump that she dare not even acknowledge a World Cup victory because he and the team didn't form a mutual-admiration society.
Now, why pick on Ann Wagner? It's pretty much a given that the entire Republican Party has had its soul removed by the narcissistic, racist, wannabe tyrant to whom they feel they owe their political survival? So why single her out?
Here's why: Wagner, like Blunt, could be standing out from the crowd. Blunt was one of the grownups in the room — arguably the most influential — who managed to broker the deal that kept the government open last year, when a bi-partisan, bi-cameral group from Congress placated the pouting president. I'm not a fan of Blunt's politically, but I gave him a shout-out for doing the patriotic thing, then.
More recently, Blunt sadly regressed to offering nothing but a tepid statement of disapproval of Trump's racist tweet, effectively blaming the Democrats. Meanwhile, his counterpart, Sen. Josh Hawley said nothing at all, probably because he believes "Send Her Back!" didn't go far enough in its racism and xenophobia, and he chose not to attack Trump from the right flank.
But my focus on Wagner is simple: She needs to be better than this, because she has been before. After the Access Hollywood, grab-them-by-the-p scandal broke in October 2016, Wagner was among a relatively small number of Republican officials who showed the courage and character to demand that Trump be removed from the party's ticket just a month before the election.
"I have committed my short time in Congress to fighting for the most vulnerable in our society. As a strong and vocal advocate for victims of sex trafficking and assault, I must be true to those survivors and myself and condemn the predatory and reprehensible comments of Donald Trump," Wagner said. "I withdraw my endorsement and call for Governor [Mike] Pence to take the lead so we can defeat Hillary Clinton."
Previously, she had returned a donation from Cadet Bone Spurs after the coward had said Sen. John McCain wasn't a war hero because "I like people who weren't captured." Said Wagner at the time: "I have no respect for anyone who uses a national microphone to disparage our vets."
Some people, myself included, were conned into thinking that was the real Ann Wagner. Let's face it, I would never support Wagner politically — we disagree on just about every substantive topic — but from everything I can tell, she's a good person, with good intentions and with no trace of racism or bigotry against immigrants.
She could have deserved respect, like she earned a month before the 2016 election, and been difficult for Democrats to challenge, by the way. Instead, almost from the moment Trump became president, Wagner has spun a complete 180-degree turn, and has made the political equivalent of a pact with the devil. She became a sycophant overnight and hasn't looked back.
Wagner's seat is one of 33 identified nationally by Democrats as top targets in the 2020 election, with good reason. She's lost her voice, and her dignity, at the feet of Donald J.Trump, someone she once put in his place.
Now, apparently, she thinks that place is a throne.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann and Jay Kanzler from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).