“Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals.”
— Donald Trump, “The Art of the Deal”
President Donald Trump’s supporters elected him, in part, because they saw him as a wily tycoon and deft dealmaker who could shake up Washington and bring decades of business know-how to the Oval Office.
He was always ready to tap into those beliefs. “We need a PRESIDENT with strength, stamina, heart and incredible deal making skill if our country is ever going to be able to prosper again!” he tweeted a few months after launching his presidential bid in 2015.
Trump, in reality, was never a peerless or even a particularly skillful dealmaker, and many of the most significant business transactions he engineered imploded. Instead, he made his way in the world as an indefatigable self-promoter, a marketing confection and a human billboard who frequently licensed his name to buildings and products paid for by others.
In Trump’s professional life, his inept dealmaking often came home to roost in unmanageable debts and serial bankruptcies. In his more recent political and presidential life, it has revealed itself through bungled, hapless efforts to overturn the Affordable Care Act; forge a nuclear agreement with North Korea; wage trade wars with China, Mexico and Canada; retain control of the House of Representatives; turn military and diplomatic strategy on its head; lay siege to sensible immigration policy; and, now, force a government shutdown to secure funding for a prized project — a wall along the U.S.’s southern border.
Striking lasting deals requires intimacy with the finer points of what every party wants out of a negotiation, realistic goals, maturity, patience, flexibility — and enough leverage so the other side can’t simply stall or walk away from the table. Trump hasn’t met any of those prerequisites in his repeated efforts to fulfill his campaign promise to build a wall, a promise that played to the most xenophobic and bigoted portion of his base while not addressing any of the real shortcomings or necessary enhancements of federal immigration policy.”Policy” and “Trump” don’t really co-exist, of course. The president lacks the interest or sophistication to steep himself in policy details, so he enters the immigration debate and dealmaking for his wall at a distinct disadvantage. For as much as he disparages politicians and public service, Trump is surrounded by Democrats and Republicans who have immersed themselves in immigration discussions for years. Expertise does matter, after all — and Trump doesn’t have it.
The most visible reminder of the raw amateurism that has undermined Trump’s dealmaking came in December during a memorable White House visit with a pair of Democrats, Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer. As the trio gradually became unsettled over policy differences that could lead to a government shutdown, Trump, ready to perform for the media he had invited to observe the chat, sallied forth in a burst of bravado.”I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump told Schumer. “I will take the mantle. I will shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”Unforced error.
Trump — undoubtedly content to prove he’s willing to burn things down to get his own way — needlessly publicized himself as the author of the shutdown that ultimately arrived. Hmmm. Let’s think about that. Doesn’t every politician in Washington with a sense of the town’s history know that voters grow weary of government shutdowns and tend not to like those responsible for them? Newt Gingrich, whom Trump has occasionally solicited for input, surely knows this. Back in 1995 and 1996, when Gingrich was speaker of the House, then-President Bill Clinton maneuvered to hang a government shutdown around the speaker’s neck — inflicting permanent political damage on the once-ascendant Gingrich.