Trump tipped his hand with ‘The Art of the Deal’

Last week, President Donald Trump declared victory for putting tit-for-tat tariffs with the European Union on hold following his meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Washington.

If Trump’s modus operandi is to solve a problem of his own making — Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU; the EU retaliated — then striking good trade deals should be a piece of cake for this White House. Is this strategy the real source of the dealmaker-in-chief’s genius?

To answer that question and learn the secrets of Trump’s success, I turned to “The Art of the Deal,” which Trump co-authored with Tony Schwartz in 1987. (To anyone who has listened to Trump’s appalling English usage, it is clear that he didn’t do the actual writing.) Of course, the idea that Trump would share state secrets — I’m not talking national security here — with the public is inconsistent with his philosophy of #MeFirst.

Many of Trump’s current obsessions are evident in the book. For example, crowd size matters, whether it’s a press conference for the Wollman Rink, which Trump renovated in 1986 — ahead of schedule and under budget! — after six years of failed attempts by New York City, or his 2017 inauguration.

The press, then and now, is something to be manipulated to one’s advantage. “If you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you,” Trump writes.

During his 18 months in the White House, Trump has given new meaning to “different” and “outrageous,” rewriting the rules of decorum for a commander in chief. He has trashed critics, be they Democrats or Republicans; undermined institutions, including the FBI and the press; and challenged the rule of law with efforts to delegitimize Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

He regularly resorts to schoolyard taunts and name-calling, which prior presidents generally restricted to behind closed doors. And he repeats inaccurate facts and statistics to prove a point, especially when it comes to subjects like trade.

Trump acknowledges in the book that “bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all.”

It was negative publicity that helped him sell condominium apartments in Trump Tower, his signature skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. News stories at the time criticized Trump’s decision to destroy art-deco friezes in the demolition of Bonwit Teller to make way for Trump Tower. Those same stories referred to the project as “one of the world’s most luxurious buildings,” which Trump claims sparked a surge in apartment sales.

And then there’s trade, the one issue on which Trump has been consistent at least since the 1980s, when he was criticizing Japan for “screwing the United States with a self-serving trade policy.”

Trump can talk zero tariffs with Juncker, but it’s a long way from words to a free-trade agreement, even with long-time allies.

The book reveals some rare moments of introspection for a president who seems to react rather than respond, digs in his heels, refuses to admit he was wrong and, even when he does, throws in a long list of qualifiers. “I’d rather fight than fold,” he admits.

Present-day examples abound. At a press conference following the July 16 Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump undercut U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings of Russian election interference by siding with Putin’s denial.

More than 24 hours later, under pressure from all fronts, Trump crafted a feeble public statement, explaining that “would” — as in, “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia” — should have been “wouldn’t.”

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said, reading from prepared text in a manner commentators likened to an on-air hostage video. Then, looking up from his text, Trump took a step back: “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all.”

He is still fighting.

Another admission from the book: “I’m the first to admit that I’m very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win. Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.”

Sound familiar? Crooked Hillary Clinton. Lyin’ Ted Cruz. Little Marco Rubio. The failing New York Times. The Amazon Washington Post.

The New York Times gets honorable mention throughout the book. “The power of the New York Times is just awesome,” Trump declares in response to praise from Ada Louise Huxtable, then the Times’ chief architecture critic, for Trump Tower’s “superior design.” (Trump had shared the model and renderings for Trump Tower with her.) “It is certainly one of the most influential institutions in the world.”

That assessment from a long-time New Yorker explains why anything Trump deems unflattering is dismissed as FAKE NEWS from the failing New York Times.

Trump’s style of governance, including his preference for one-man rule, is foreshadowed in “The Art of the Deal.”

“Committees are what insecure people create in order to put off making decisions,” Trump concludes after his dealings with the short-lived U.S. Football League. (Trump purchased the New Jersey Generals in 1983.) “I also liked the idea of taking on the NFL.”

That was 1984, when he filed an antitrust suit because the USFL could not get a contract to televise its games in the fall instead of in the spring. (Trump won but was awarded a piddling $1.)

Fast forward 33 years and Trump still likes the idea of taking on the National Football League: this time, for its failure to censure players who refused to stand during the national anthem. This is a man who never quits, never surrenders.

Readers of the book would not have been surprised at the record number of staff turnovers at the White House in the first year of Trump’s presidency. After all, Trump prefers a closely held, family-run enterprise.

After bringing his brother Robert on board to work with him on a casino-hotel project in Atlantic City, Trump writes that “you can trust family in a way you can never trust anyone else.”

Not everything Trump reveals in “The Art of the Deal” comports with the man in the White House today. “You don’t act on impulse until you’ve considered the downside,” he writes.

Really? When Trump used national security as a rationale to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum, including imports from the U.S.’s closest allies and trading partners, had he considered the downside?

Clearly not. Last week, he announced up to $12 billion in aid to farmers hurt by China’s retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agricultural products. Sen. Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said the action was reminiscent of “a Soviet type of economy,” with commissars granting waivers and allocating benefits.

Then again, if Trump’s “downside” is ending a trade war he started, by all means, Mr. President, take your victory lap and move on.

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