Throughout the Presidential campaign one of Donald Trumps major selling points was that he was a GREAT negotiator. He assured his supporters and the rest of nation that when he became President, he would use his awesome negotiating skills to easily resolve of all the nation’s problems, foreign and domestic. Well, after six months on the job, I believe that it is fair to ask, “How’s that negotiating thing working out for you Donnie?” However, I understand that Trump has flown off Europe for the G-20 and isn’t available for questions. That’s probably just as well because he would answer with lie; just as he does almost every time he opens his mouth to speak.
The truth of the matter is that since we are dealing with a full blown narcissist, Trump’s assessment of his negotiating prowess does not match reality. Even Tony Schwartz, the ghost writer who helped create the Trump myth with the book “The Art of the Deal”, couldn’t make him look like a competent negotiator based on his first five and halve months the White House.
Remember when Trump promised that he would bring the Washington establishment to heel with the strength of his personality and his great negotiating skills. During the campaigned he said Congress would repeal Obamacare and replace it with a GREAT bill which would insure all Americans. In an interview with the Washington Post he said, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” At another point he said, “”I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not”. In May he tweeted, “I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.” And, oh yea, at a rally in September he promised. “On my first day I’m going to ask Congress to immediately send me a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
Now, though he made the repeal and replacement of Obamacare his first legislative priority and most important domestic agenda item, 166 days after he took the oath of office Trump has not come within hailing distance of convincing members of his own party who control both houses of Congress to pass a health care bill, any health care bill, that he can sign. The fact that both the House and Senate bills would each cause at least 22 million Americans to lose their insurance coverage and both would cut deeply in the Medicaid budget do not speak well of Trump’s ability to convince even Congressional Republicans to follow his lead.
In addition, it wasn’t a compliment to Trump’s negotiating skills when Senate leaders for the most part tried to keep him away from their members while they tried to gather enough votes to push their healthcare bill through the upper chamber. Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republican Senators then accused Trump negatively affecting their efforts after he used his super PAC in heavy handed manner to target a reluctant Republican Senator with negative ads. Finally, by all accounts the plan to invite all 52 Republicans to the White House to meet with the President so he could convince them to pass the bill was less then successful. Trump’s negotiating mojo is apparently not in working order.
Nor have Trump’s great negotiating skills been on display on the international stage. Every class in art of negotiations teaches that most successful negotiations depend on the participants striving to reach win-win agreements. Trump’s ham fisted “America first, every other country be damned” approach has alienated the leaders of our closest allies including Great Britain, Germany, France, Australia and Mexico. Our NATO allies in Eastern Europe no longer trust Trump’s willingness to live up to prior agreements of mutual defense or his willingness to stand up to Russia’s aggressive behavior. This greatly diminishes our country’s ability to negotiate future deals in a favorable manner.
In regard to Trump’s biggest international challenge yet, the determination of Kim Jong-un to develop ICBM’s capable of delivering nuclear weapons to this country, Trump’s negotiating efforts have been absolute failures. He told us that he would easy. Back in April, Trump wined and dined Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort and tried to convince Xi to put economic pressure on North Korea to end their nuclear and ICBM programs. After the Chinese President’s visit Trump tweeted; “”The relationship I have with China, it’s been already acclaimed as being something very special, something very different than we’ve ever had.” He also indicated that as a result their talks, Xi Jinping would use China’s leverage with North Korea to put pressure on Kim Jong-un to comply.
Apparently, at best Trump negotiated was a bunch of empty promises if he reached agreement with President XI at all. Trump tweeted June 20th “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!” Recently Trump has obviously grown more disillusioned with Xi’s efforts. On July 5th he tweeted, “Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us!”
One of the principles of successful negotiations is to understand in advance where the interests of your negotiating partner lie. Trump asked President Xi to start shutting down trade between China and North Korea which is the Hermit Kingdom’s all important economic life line. That action would throw North Korea’s fragile economy into a tail spin in short order. A weakened North Korea, one in which the government might eventually topple, is not in China’s best interests. Xi does not want millions of North starving Koreans trying to pour across China’s borders. And he certainly does not want a unified Korea with a west leaning government on his doorstep. Besides, a trouble making North Korea has always served to distract the US in Asia giving China more maneuvering room as it seeks to dominate the region.
Donald Trump, the GREAT negotiator came up empty in his negotiations with President Xi of China. It is interesting that Vladimir Putin able to seal an agreement with President Xi on North Korea where Trump failed. After a summit in Moscow the Presidents of Russia and China issued a joint statement spelling out a peace plan for the Korean peninsula which would be detrimental to our interest in the region. While they called the North Korean recent test of an ICBM “unacceptable” the stated North Korea’s “sensible concerns” for self defense must be respected. They called for the North Korea suspend its missile program and the Americans and the South Koreans to simultaneously agree to shut down large scale joint military maneuvers in order to pave the way for multilateral talks. They also suggested that the US move its military out of South East Asia and shut down its efforts to build an anti-missile defense system in South Korea in exchange for nuclear and missile concessions by Kim Jong-un.
Note that while the joint Russian-Chinese communiqué on Korea seeks to depict Presidents Putin and Xi as peace makers on the world stage, it is not difficult to see that their real motives are to serve their countries’ best interests. Our two chief adversaries in the world are attempting to use our North Korean “problem” to prompt the US into drastically reducing our foot print and influence in South East Asia. China as made it clear that it seeks absolute dominance in the region and Putin sees a loss of America’s influence anywhere in the world as a win for Russia. Putin and Xi are both savvy and experienced national leaders who could school the neophyte Trump on “art of the deal”.
So thus far Donald Trump has alienated most of our best friends in the world and failed miserably at handling with his highest domestic and international priorities. At best he has been proven to be an inept and clumsy negotiator who has demonstrated he doesn’t understand the basic principles of negotiation and certainly not how to achieve success when negotiating at the highest levels. This is not the world that Trump used to live in where he held most of the cards and could bully suppliers and labor and threaten to sue them if they didn’t fall in line. He now must operating on a stage where he can’t buy politicians with big campaign contributions, pay off minor public officials, or hire high priced lawyers to get him out of jams. He is now in the biggest of leagues and he is not up to the challenge.