For someone who had a book ghostwritten for him called "The Art of the Deal," Donald Trump is a notably shitty dealmaker.
So far in his presidency he's noted for breaking deals -- Paris climate change agreement, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran nuclear agreement -- rather than making them. Which figures. Blowing stuff up is a hell of a lot easier than putting stuff together.
The worst thing I can say about Trump is that I consider myself a better dealmaker than he is. And my credentials aren't exactly sterling.
Once I was negotiating with a guy in our carport about a car I was selling. After some talking, it turned out that the guy was the mirror image of me. I was saying, "I feel like the price I'm asking is a bit high," and the other guy was saying, "This car is in such great shape, it's worth more than you're asking."
After we realized the absurdity of what was happening, we laughed and agreed on a price that both of us were happy with.
Which is the essence of a deal, isn't it? Reaching an agreement that makes both sides pleased, even if in reality, one side is getting more out of the deal.
In negotiating with Democratic Congressional leaders about the partial government shutdown and Trump's obsessive desire for border wall funding, it seems clear that Trump has no idea how to handle talks with people who aren't intimidated by him.
This likely is a first for Trump, since he seems to have gotten by in his previous business life by using threats, lawsuits, lies, broken promises, and bravado to get what he wanted. None of those things are going to work with Pelosi and Schumer. They're way more experienced at political dealmaking than Trump is.
What blows my mind the most about his negotiating incompetence is this: he and his Republican surrogates already have made clear how desperate Trump is to get funding for something he can call a "wall."
News stories have made clear that if Trump can't fulfill this campaign promise (even if Mexico doesn't pay for it), he and his fellow Republicans consider that the chance of him winning reelection in 2020 is low. So unlike a car salesman who tells a customer, "This is my best offer, take it or leave it," Trump has staked out a position of "I'm screwed if I don't get wall funding."
Not surprisingly, Trump's desperation makes Congressional Democrats even more determined not to give him what he so obviously can't live without.
Thus Trump is reduced to making threats about invoking a presidential power to declare a border security emergency, which carries with it a lot of problems of its own. Such as being possibly illegal and decidedly unpopular with everyone but his base, since he'd take money out of the Defense Department budget earmarked for other purposes.
Here's another of Trump's weaknesses that makes him a terrible dealmaker: he lacks empathy.
Now, taken to extremes this isn't a great attribute for dealmakers. In the car-buying/selling anecdote I shared above, the other guy and I were each overly empathetic. I was visualizing how I'd feel about buying my car, even though I was selling it, and the other guy was visualizing how he'd feel if he was selling the car, even though he was buying it.
But if someone can't put themselves in the other person's shoes, or rather, mind, they're going to have a difficult time getting that person to agree to a deal.
I'm pretty sure Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are well aware of how badly Trump wants his wall.
However, I'm deeply doubtful that Donald Trump understands how badly Pelosi and Schumer need to hold the line on wall funding -- given the results of the midterm elections where voters overwhelmingly said no way to Trump's border wall fear-mongering.
A compromise on reopening the government seems eminently possible. Yet this requires Trump to do some empathizing that he doesn't seem capable of. Trump needs to take a Democratic "yes" for an answer.
Yes, the Dems are saying, we agree that border security needs to be stronger. They are open to funding a host of border security to-do's, including fencing, so long as nothing looks like what Trump would call a wall. But given how Trump shamelessly lies about everything, he also could lie about an agreement to reopen the government.
I can picture him saying to his base, "The Democrats want to call it fencing rather than a wall, but we know what they really agreed to: a wall." Likewise, Pelosi and Schumer could say, "Trump wants to call it a wall rather than fencing, but we know what he really agreed to: fencing."
Both sides have to feel like they won in order to strike a deal between equals. Until Trump realizes this, the standoff between him and the Democrats is going to continue -- with 800,000 government workers stuck in the middle without pay.