U.S. President Donald Trump talks to journalists at the Oval Office of the White House after the AHCA health care bill was pulled before a vote, accompanied...
CARLOS BARRIA

Team Trump puts on a clinic on how not to negotiate

Updated
In just two days, funding for the federal government will expire, at which point we’d see the first-ever shutdown in which one party controls Congress and the White House.

As things stand, however, this outcome appears highly unlikely. Congressional leaders unveiled a spending measure late yesterday that ignored Donald Trump’s demands for taxpayer money for a border wall, and as TPM noted, the White House is now prepared to accept it.
Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, on Tuesday night said that President Donald Trump was willing to sign a temporary funding measure that did not include money to build a border wall.

During an interview on CNN, host Jake Tapper noted to Mulvaney that Republicans have proposed a funding measure without money for the wall and asked if Trump would be willing to sign that. Mulvaney replied that he was.
Remember, just five days ago, Mulvaney was saying the opposite. Speaking on behalf of Trump’s White House, the far-right budget director insisted that “elections have consequences” and “we want wall funding” as part of the spending bill.

Democrats said no and Team Trump surrendered.

And while that’s good news for those who hoped to see the government’s lights stay on, let’s not brush past the fact that we’ve learned something important about the president: Donald J. Trump is extraordinarily bad at negotiations.

Ahead of the 2016 election, Americans were told that the one thing Trump was supposed to be good at – ostensibly the greatest skill, honed over decades, he’d bring to the presidency – was his expertise as a negotiator.

And yet, here we are. Trump tried to negotiate with Beijing over the “One China” policy, and the president ended up retreating, giving China exactly what it wanted in exchange for nothing. Trump tried to negotiate with lawmakers from his own party over health care, but he failed spectacularly to persuade them to support the legislation he was desperate to sign.

Last week, Trump thought he could negotiate with Democrats to secure funding for a border wall that only he seems eager to build, and the president not only didn’t come close to reaching his objective, he was once again left embarrassed.

What I find especially fascinating about this latest misstep is that Democrats didn’t even have to work especially hard, or deploy some sophisticated, 11-dimensional-chess strategy. They simply sat back, watched Trump set a trap for himself, waited for Trump to fall into the trap, then chuckled to themselves when Trump couldn’t figure a way out.

It was obvious from the start his plan wouldn’t work. As soon as the White House intervened in the bipartisan negotiations, and said border-wall money had to be part of the deal, we knew one of two things would happen: either there’d be a shutdown, which would be bad for Trump, or the White House would have to cave, which would be bad for Trump.

A New Republic report concluded, “Trump could not have screwed this up more badly. He spent a week of valuable time threatening to derail a rarity in contemporary Washington: a fairly reasonable negotiation between the two parties. And he didn’t get anything out of it. If anything he showed once again that he’s all bluster – that he’ll make a lot of noise but, when push comes to shove, ultimately back down.”

Circling back to a point we discussed a month ago, after Trump’s health care bill failed, it’s never been altogether clear that Trump understands how to strike a deal. He’s accustomed to private-sector agreements in which he leverages his celebrity status to make money, but can anyone think of a situation – from any point in his entire career – in which Trump has set a goal, delved into the details, and persuaded competing constituencies to accept a compromise?

Of course not; that’s not his style at all. Voters who assumed that Trump’s wealth and boardroom experience would translate well into the Oval Office made a terrible mistake.