US President Donald Trump has been among the most unpopular new presidents in history for almost the entirety of his first two years in office.
Yet through it all, Democrats have been somewhat timid. They don't talk about impeachment. They didn't really make their 2018 election messaging about him. And the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate have generally treated him with kid gloves.
Maybe they worried it would just motivate the GOP base. Maybe they were recognising the authority of his office and their own minority status, and were thinking they could get more with sugar than vinegar.
Whatever the explanation, something changed today.
For perhaps the first time of the entire Trump presidency, Democratic leaders employed the vinegar. And they seemed to set out to do it, too.
Trump invited House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer to the Oval Office for talks about a potential government shutdown and border wall funding.
But the scene quickly devolved into disagreements and even personal sniping. It was a scene perhaps without precedent in US politics — leaders of both parties openly questioning their opponents' political fortitude and capital for all the world to see, even as they were negotiating to keep the government functioning.
And Pelosi and Schumer planted the seeds for the confrontation early. When Trump first brought up the wall and asked Schumer about it, Schumer was curt: "It's called funding the government, Mr President."
Shortly thereafter, when Pelosi was given the floor, she slipped in an allusion to the "Trump shutdown" — with Trump sitting just metres away.
"Did you say 'Trump?' " Trump asked, without receiving an answer.
There is precisely zero chance Pelosi inserted that talking point without knowing what it would do. That's the kind of thing you say at a partisan news conference, not a joint press availability.
Schumer, in particular, appeared ready to spar. After the three of them debated how much support Trump's proposals had among congressional Republicans, the election came up.
Trump bragged about the GOP gaining two Senate seats — wins that he argued offset the GOP's 40-seat loss in the House. "Excuse me, did we win the Senate?" Trump asked.
Schumer shot back: "When the President brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he's in real trouble."
The point was a valid if harsh one; Republicans gained Senate seats only because the map was so friendly for them; North Dakota was Trump's fourth-best state in 2016, and he won Indiana by double-digits, too.
By the end of the drama, Democrats got a sound bite they could hardly have dreamed of: Trump saying repeatedly that he would shoulder the blame for a shutdown — and even promising not to blame them.
"I will take the mantle," he said. "I will be the one to shut it down."
If the shutdown does happen, they can now credibly say it was Trump's choice. At the start, Trump bristled at the idea of a "Trump shutdown". By the end, he bear-hugged it.
In total, Pelosi and Schumer had both called out Trump for his false claims concerning the construction of the wall, to his face. Both had attacked his political capital and stewardship of the GOP, also to his face. While Trump gave as good as he got, for once he was getting it back.
But it didn't stop there. Shortly after the availability ended, Pelosi questioned Trump's "manhood" while talking about him to fellow House Democrats — probably knowing full well this would leak out rather quickly.
"It's like a manhood thing for him — as if manhood could ever be associated with him," she said. "This wall thing."
Perhaps their 2018 election wins have emboldened them.
Perhaps they recognise that their newfound authority in the House carries with it necessary clashes with Trump. Or perhaps they are just setting the tone for 2020.
Whatever the case, this was a new front for the Democratic Party. And it suggests that the next two years won't be filled with bipartisan harmony.