by THE EDITORIAL BOARD · August 5, 2017
President Trump meeting with the National Association of Manufacturers at the White House in March. Eric Thayer for The New York Times
President Trump promised he’d make so many great deals that we’d all get “tired of winning.” He’s certainly left Americans feeling worn out, but not because of any transactional whirlwind.
In reluctantly signing a bill last week imposing sanctions on Russia that he cannot lift without congressional review, Mr. Trump complained that it “makes it harder for the United States to strike good deals for the American people” and that “Congress could not even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking.”
The legislation is actually proof that Congress has learned not to trust Mr. Trump to strike good deals and has seen quite enough of his negotiating skills.
Six months in, Mr. Trump can’t get legislation passed on anything much bigger than naming a post office. Indifferent to negotiating with Democrats and ham-handed in dealing with Republicans, he’s getting rolled on the major promises of his campaign — health care, infrastructure, taxes and jobs.
The president’s preferred image of himself as a shrewd, hard-nosed negotiator took a hit last week when The Washington Post published transcripts of his phone conversations in January with President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia. Mr. Trump admitted to Mr. Peña Nieto that he couldn’t make Mexico pay for a border wall, as he had promised many times to roaring crowds at his rallies, but he implored Mr. Peña Nieto to maintain the fiction in public, seemingly oblivious that the Mexican president had every reason not to do so. His bullying tone with Mr. Turnbull could not hide his lack of understanding of the refugee pact with which Mr. Turnbull wanted him to comply.
This is the man who opened his 1987 book, “The Art of the Deal,” by boasting: “Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”
Providing reliable health care coverage to tens of millions of Americans could have been the biggest kick of Mr. Trump’s life.
A week before his inauguration, Mr. Trump said he had a plan “very much formulated down to the final strokes” to provide “insurance for everybody.” In the same interview, he promised to negotiate lower drug prices, “just like” he’d forced Lockheed Martin to produce cheaper F-35 fighter jets.
In fact, Lockheed let Mr. Trump take credit for negotiating F-35 cost savings that were already in the pipeline. He caved on his promise to empower the government to negotiate lower drug prices — an effort Democrats support — after a single meeting with big pharmaceutical makers.
And then he kicked the whole “complicated” health care deal to Republicans in Congress. After months of Trump promises of “a beautiful picture” on health care, the seven-year Republican crusade to end Obamacare seems to have come to its own end.
The $1 trillion infrastructure overhaul Mr. Trump promised is another big deal that Democrats like, but he has yet to take their calls. He’s promoting a sweeping package of tax cuts, but there aren’t many details to go on there, either.
“We hope to get taxes and then infrastructure,” he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal not long ago. “And then I’m going to do a very big — we’re doing very big trade deals, and we’re looking forward to that. But we want to do, ideally, this first. You know, a lot of people said you should have started with taxes or you should have started with infrastructure. Well, infrastructure, I’ll actually have bipartisan support, and I can use infrastructure to carry other things along. So I don’t want to waste it at the beginning, if that makes sense.”
No, it didn’t.
Things make more sense if we remember that despite his gilded penthouse and branded country clubs, Mr. Trump has had a business career filled with questionable deals that almost ruined him and led to multiple bankruptcies.
He does deserve credit for one thing: His incompetence and futile bullying seem to have led his own party to begin making deals without him.
With nothing to show for themselves, and with Mr. Trump’s approval ratings in the 30-something range, Republicans have begun working with Democrats on fixing the flaws in Obamacare, on legislation that would protect the special counsel, Robert Mueller, from being fired by the president, and on the sanctions Mr. Trump was practically forced to sign.
They’ve also set up a system that would prevent any recess appointment of a new attorney general, should Mr. Trump sack Jeff Sessions. They might be able to find a way to work on a bipartisan infrastructure plan and immigration reform, too.
Congress is showing signs of understanding what Mr. Trump clearly does not: that politics is not “The Art of the Deal,” but the art of the possible.