Maybe Trump the deal maker should read his own book
After reading the leaked transcripts of President Donald Trump's January phone calls with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto, I have a good book to recommend to our nation's president.
It's called "Trump: The Art of the Deal."
Yes, that's the 1987 bestseller that is credited to Trump and journalist Tony Schwartz. I always have figured that Schwartz did the writing, but after examining Trump's phone calls, I am wondering whether Schwartz did all of the reading, too.
"Maximize your options," is one of Trump's main "elements of the deal" that he offers potential deal makers. Do thorough research, the book counsels, "keep a lot of balls in the air, because most deals fall out," and even after the deal is done, have a half-dozen approaches to making it work.
But in discussing refugee policy on the phone call with Turnbull, Trump sounds flummoxed and angry, mainly that he has to abide by an agreement that the Obama administration made to take in 1,250 refugees.
As Trump repeatedly asks whether we know who the refugees are, Turnbull repeatedly has to explain the difference between illegal immigrants, who are not vetted, and refugees seeking asylum, who are.
"I look like a dope," says Trump. "The only way that I can do this is to say that my predecessor made a deal and I have no option then to honor the deal. I hate having to do it, but I am still going to vet them very closely."
Yes, vetting is what you do with refugees. Australia has vetted them and the United States is vetting them, too. Trump effectually sounds impressed by Australia's border protection measures, but ends the call abruptly and calls it his "most unpleasant call of the day."
"Use your leverage" is another rule from "Trump: The Art of the Deal." "The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it," Trump says in the book. "That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you're dead."
Yet desperation ripples throughout Trump's phone call with Mexico's Pena Nieto over Trump's signature campaign promise "to build a wall along the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it."
Again, Trump tries with mixed success to conceal his shallow understanding of the issues in question -- despite having campaigned on them for the past two years.
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Worse, he bemoans his own predicament, having promised his base that Mexico will pay for the wall, despite the symbolic national insult it presents to many Mexicans and the inability of that country to pay for such a project, even if they wanted to.
All that Trump seems to have in mind is the corner his rhetoric has painted himself into.
"The fact is we are both in a little bit of a political bind because I have to have Mexico pay for the wall -- I have to," Trump says. "I have been talking about it for a two-year period, and the reason I say they are going to pay for the wall is because Mexico has made a fortune out of the stupidity of U.S. trade representatives."
Since Pena Nieto has plenty of domestic political problems of his own, I do not know why Trump would think that spilling his own self-inflicted political woes would help his case. Eventually the two leaders agree to a classic political dodge: They'll simply stop talking about who's going to pay for the wall.
"They are going to say, 'Who is going to pay for the wall, Mr. President?' to both of us, and we should both say, 'We will work it out,' " Trump says. "It will work out in the formula somehow. As opposed to you saying, 'We will not pay' and me saying, 'We will not pay.' "
How long can Trump kick that can down the road? That remains to be seen. In the meantime, Pena Nieto agrees to "look for a creative way to solve this issue" that serves both countries' interests.
Meanwhile, we await how well Trump meets another of his book's nuggets of advice: "Deliver the goods." Put the proposed wall with a tax code overhaul, infrastructure repair and Obamacare repeal-and-replacement among major programs that Trump and Congress have yet to enact.
Welcome to the world of governance, Mr. Trump. Delivering the goods in the world of politics and government is very different from the world of business. I read that in a book somewhere.
(E-mail Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.)(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.