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Whatever happened to Donald Trump, the 'ultimate dealmaker'?

As he uproots another effective foreign policy for no reason, dealmaking is proving to be one of Donald Trump’s biggest weaknesses.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, March 23, 2018, as he heads to Marine One for a short trip to...

In late 2013, there were rising tensions between the Obama administration and Iran, and Donald Trump decided to weigh in with his unique insights. "Remember that I predicted a long time ago that President Obama will attack Iran because of his inability to negotiate properly," Trump said at the time.

The Republican added, in reference to the Democratic president, "Not skilled!"

From Trump's perspective, at least in November 2013, if Obama was better at negotiating -- if the then-president had the necessary "skills" -- he'd reach a diplomatic agreement with Iran, rather than push the United States closer to another military conflict in the Middle East.

Trump's mindless palaver, of course, soon proved ridiculous. Obama helped create an international sanctions regime that brought Iran to the negotiating table, where the Obama administration helped negotiate a historic international agreement, halting Iran's nuclear program. Everything Trump "predicted" turned out to be backwards.

But nearly five years later, Trump's little tweet also comes with an ironic twist: he's now the one inviting a new war "because of his inability to negotiate properly." The current president is giving every indication that he's ... what's the phrase ... "not skilled."

A couple of months ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, "[T]he president is, I think, the ultimate negotiator and dealmaker when it comes to any type of conversation."

Proof to substantiate the boast remains elusive. The New York Times' editorial board noted this morning:

So far, again and again, he has shown himself to be adept at destroying agreements -- a relatively easy task for a president -- and utterly lacking in the policy depth or strategic vision and patience to create new ones.

This isn't what American voters were told to expect from a Trump presidency. Indeed, it's the opposite.

As we discussed in March,  this president certainly wants to be perceived as a world-class negotiator. Not long before launching his presidential campaign, Trump identified what he saw as his greatest strength. “Deals are my art form,” the Republican boasted. “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.”

But in practice, this is proving to be one of Trump’s biggest weaknesses.

He vowed to negotiate a health care deal. And an immigration deal. And a replacement for the TPP. And a replacement for the Paris climate accords. And a Middle East peace agreement (which he suggested might be easy). We'd all marvel at the president's chosen "art form."

Now he intends to strike some kind of deal on Iran -- a goal he intends to reach by isolating the United States, alienating our allies, and undermining our country's international credibility.

At some point, shouldn't the hype surrounding Trump's dealmaking abilities become a punch-line to a sad joke? A year and a half into this presidency, where is the proof that he knows literally anything about how to reach meaningful  agreements with anyone?

As regular readers know, none of this is the result of misfortune or near-miss opportunities. Trump has struggled at dealmaking 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. And as a consequence, the president's record is one of tearing down, not building up.