One need not be an expert in negotiations to understand the basic elements of a deal. At its core, one side tells another, "I'll give you x, if you give me y." If the parties agree to the terms, an agreement is reached, and the transaction goes forward.
In the dominant political fight in D.C., Donald Trump wants a giant wall along the U.S./Mexico border. In order to reach his goal, the Republican president is prepared to offer congressional Democrats ... nothing. The purported author of the ghost-written "Art of the Deal" -- a man who routinely pretends to be a world-class authority on negotiations -- is trying to reach an agreement in which his White House makes no concessions.
Trump simply wants Democratic lawmakers to give him more than $5 billion for a vanity project -- as if he's entitled to it. The wall should be a reward for how awesome the president's awesomeness is. For some reason, this hasn't worked.
Of course, Trump could try a more conventional approach to negotiating, in which he offered something tangible that Democrats want in exchange for what he wants. In fact, some on the right are concerned the president may eventually do exactly that. The New York Times published a quote the other day that stood out for me:
"I've always thought it created a danger that he would trade almost anything in order to get the wall -- I think that's still a potential danger," said Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that argues for less immigration. "I'm still worried about that now."
From a conservative perspective, those concerns are well grounded. Democrats really don't want to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on a giant, ineffective border wall, so if Trump were try to come up with an offer designed to entice them, he'd have to propose something that would be (a) enormous; and (b) wildly unpopular among Republicans.
And this got me thinking: what exactly would it take? What would a borderline-desperate president put on the table to sway Democrats?
As of yesterday, the White House's position was plainly absurd: if Democrats agreed to finance a border wall, Trump would end the shutdown. Since the government has to re-open anyway, and that's a priority for both parties, it obviously can't be the basis for a credible deal.
Similarly, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) suggested the president offer a debt-ceiling increase and higher domestic spending caps. Of course, raising the debt limit falls into the same category as re-opening government -- it's a bipartisan priority that has to happen -- though higher domestic spending caps is at least a step in the right direction.
I've seen some talk about offering DACA protections to Dreamers in exchange for a wall, but Trump has already rejected this offer in the recent past, and besides, at least for now, those DACA protections already exist.
It's why Republicans will have to think much bigger. What if Trump offered some combination of a universal background check system on gun purchases, dramatically expanded voting rights, and new health care protections? Would Dems be tempted to write a check for the border?
I don't know. Maybe the president should try it and see what happens.