With the economy in trouble and the coronavirus crisis still raging, much of the United States could use a lifeline. It's against this backdrop that the CARES Act and its benefits are set to expire tomorrow. There have been some bipartisan talks this week, raising the possibility of a new agreement, but by all accounts, the negotiations are failing spectacularly.
Perhaps some hands-on presidential leadership could generate a breakthrough? Maybe, if the United States had a self-professed, world-class dealmaker in the Oval Office, an economic aid package could still come together?
One of the more notable tweets Donald Trump published ahead of his political career came in late 2014, not long before he launched his Republican presidential campaign. He wrote:
"Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully or write poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That's how I get my kicks."
It’s partly why he paid a ghost-writer to help write a book called, “The Art of the Deal.”
Trump proceeded to take the message to the public, assuring voters that he had a unique skill set normal politicians lacked: he knew better than most how to negotiate, bring people together, and reach the kind of "big deals" that would produce real results.
After the election, the White House bought into the hype. A couple of years ago, then-Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, “[T]he president is, I think, the ultimate negotiator and deal-maker."
So, where is he? If deal-making is Trump's "art form," and he's a world-class negotiator, why isn't he at the negotiating table with congressional leaders, working something out?
The question generally goes overlooked, largely because the truth has become painfully obvious over the course of the president's term: Trump's vaunted deal-making skills were just part of his 2016 deception, presenting himself to the electorate as something he clearly is not.
Indeed, as we've discussed, reaching deals has proven to be one of the things Trump is worst at. The proof is hard to miss: he's tried to negotiate sweeping agreements on everything from health care to immigration, gun violence to government shutdowns, and he's repeatedly come up short.
None of this is the result of misfortune or near-miss opportunities. Trump has struggled at deal-making because he doesn’t care to do the work necessary to reach agreements. To strike big deals, negotiators need to do their homework. They need to be able to listen to competing arguments. They need to be creative. They need to be consistent and show follow-through. They need patience and an appreciation for nuance.
Whatever strengths Donald J. Trump may bring to the table, he has none of these qualities.
What's more, even if he did sit down with congressional leaders to work on an economic aid package this week, there's no reason to believe the president would be aware enough of current events to even have an intelligent conversation. Yesterday, Trump criticized the Democratic aid package as overly stingy, the day after his team and their allies criticized the Democratic aid package as overly generous.
Does anyone seriously believe he's prepared to work out the details of a multi-trillion-dollar economic bill?
Finally, even if Trump were to volunteer to try to work on a deal, the painful truth is that Republicans wouldn't want him at the negotiating table. As I noted in my book, there have been multiple instances throughout the last few years in which GOP officials rejected the idea of having the president sit down with Democratic leaders for talks for an unfortunate reason: Republicans assumed that officials like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer would exploit Trump's ignorance and end up with deals the GOP wouldn't tolerate.
As CARES Act benefits expire tomorrow, many Americans might wonder why the president didn't at least try to negotiate a compromise solution. The answer is an awkward one for the White House: Trump doesn't know how.