Opinion: Why Trump is a terrible, terrible deal-maker

If you listen to his fans, Donald Trump is a brilliant deal-maker and negotiator. He literally wrote the book on the art of deal-making, and he has promised repeatedly, endlessly, to put that skill to work to make America great again.

Since Trump became president, however, we have seen no evidence of that legendary skill set. We’ve seen no trade deals negotiated or renegotiated, no major deals cut with Congress or the Democrats, no deals worked out with other countries on Iran or North Korea or the Middle East or climate change … nothing.

There’s a reason for that. As a businessman operating in the business world, Trump at least had an idea of what winning looks like. He knew what he wanted out of a deal, and he knew what he was willing to surrender to get it. In Washington, he doesn’t have a clue. He has no idea what winning means or how to measure it.

He doesn’t have concrete policy goals that he wants to achieve; he wants whatever outcome brings him universal applause. And as Republicans and Democrats are all discovering, you just can’t negotiate with someone who has no idea what he wants.

Earlier this month, for example, Trump met with congressional leaders on the topic of immigration reform, with TV cameras there to record much of it. During that session, which was stage-managed by the White House to make Trump look as though he was in charge, the president railed against the lottery program that ensures that the United States attracts immigrants from a diverse group of countries and demanded that it be ended.

“Countries come in and they put names in a hopper,” Trump complained in describing the program. “They’re not giving you their best names; common sense means they’re not giving you their best names. They’re giving you people that they don’t want … they put people that they don’t want into a lottery and the United States takes those people.”

That is just blithering nonsense. Other countries don’t nominate their citizens for the U.S. visa lottery; foreign governments play no role in the process whatsoever. Individuals nominate themselves, and they do so by going to the U.S. embassy and filling out application forms.

If they are deemed to meet education and skills requirements, and if they pass the interview and have no criminal background, they join the 15 to 20 million other people around the world hoping that their name will be one of the 50,000 drawn annually. The individuals with the initiative to go through all that, those with the guts to then move to a foreign country and start all over again, are not “the worst of the worst” selected by their government to be dumped on America, as Trump describes them. They “self-select” as motivated, hard-working and courageous.

But here’s the thing:

Trump has been president for a year now. Immigration is his signature issue. It takes all of 45 seconds to read and comprehend the two previous paragraphs about how the visa lottery actually works. Yet Trump has not performed even that minimal task.

If you lack that basic level of knowledge, you cannot possibly be effective in negotiations. You have no idea whether the deal that you’re being offered is good or bad, you have no ability to craft a counteroffer and you have no ability to tell when you’re being manipulated, whether by your own staff or by others. You are not just helpless, you are a major liability.

That’s why the White House staff and congressional Republicans kept Trump the alleged deal-maker as far away as possible from the deal-making over the shutdown.

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