Donald Trump can't make a deal
Why our vaunted dealmaker-in-chief just can't close the deal
President Trump makes deals. He's a dealmaker, someone who deals in deals, who knows the deal and does the deal. Have you read The Art of the Deal? He's a deal guy, is what I'm saying.
Perhaps that was why he thought that as president, he could do better than any politician. After all, isn't politics just a lot of dealmaking? You sit down with Congress or the Chinese or whoever, you do a little posturing, you give and you take, and you've got yourself a deal. Then before you know it, all the deals have created so much winning we're all tired of winning.
Or maybe not. In fact, seven and a half months into his presidency, Trump can't point to a single significant deal he has negotiated. In fact, it's starting to look like he might actually be a terrible dealmaker.
Just look at where we are. The Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed, in no small part because Trump did such an abysmal job in his sporadic and half-hearted attempts to actually craft a deal. While he has signed some executive orders and legislation rolling back Obama-era regulations, none of them was a "deal" in that they required careful negotiation; Republicans all agreed that they ought to get rid of whatever protections for workers, consumers, or the environment were at issue. His other major legislative priority — tax cuts — was supposed to be done by this summer, but it turned out to be more complicated than Trump and his aides had realized, and it now may push into next year, with no guarantee of success.
Remember when he was going to force China to give back all our jobs? Somehow that never happened. Faced with the question of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, after months of saying how much he loved the DREAMers and wanted to protect them, Trump rescinded the program and begged Congress to fix it. "Congress, get ready to do your job — DACA!" he tweeted. In other words: I have no idea what to do, so you guys deal with it.
The Republicans are now embarking on a hellish month of legislative scrambling, not to do great deals that will deliver winning for the public, but just to prevent disaster. And they're all acting as though the only thing they want from the president is that he not bumble his way into the negotiations and screw everything up.
Most importantly, Congress has to avert twin crises that threaten not only us but the whole world. First, they have to pass a spending bill to fund the government — and if they don't do it by Oct. 1, there will be a shutdown. That would be a political disaster for them, given that they're in complete control in Washington and they can barely keep it operating. Second, they have to raise the debt ceiling by the same date, or the United States will go into default — an eventuality that could trigger a worldwide financial crisis.
Then there's the question of aid to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, a large expenditure that will surely be passed quickly, but won't require Trump's vaunted dealmaking skills to negotiate. More important from his perspective, it probably won't feel like the kind of deal he'll point to in years to come. When there's a disaster, the federal government steps in to help, just as it has done under previous presidents. He won't be able to claim (okay, maybe he'll claim it anyway) that only he could have done something so terrific, and he won't be able to say it was some kind of ideological triumph for his party.
In fairness, perhaps there will be a spectacular wave of dealmaking some time between now and when Trump runs for re-election. But it sure looks like he actually isn't much of a dealmaker after all. Unlike a smart negotiator, he never bothered to educate himself on the people on the other side of the table or the issues about which they're negotiating, whether it's Congress or foreign leaders. He doesn't know what they want, where their interests lie, or what kind of internal and external constraints they operate under. He thinks he has something to offer them when he doesn't. And he doesn't realize that unlike when he was negotiating deals as a businessman, he can't just walk away and find another sucker.
There have been presidents whose dealmaking skills created vital advancement for the country — Lyndon Johnson comes to mind. It wasn't crazy for Trump's voters to believe that as a dealmaker he could accomplish things ordinary politicians couldn't. The problem was that it was all based on an image Trump had spent years creating, but had no substance behind it.