These Donald Trump Quotes Prove Donald Trump Is a Lousy Negotiator

May 5th 2017

Mike Rothschild

When he was running for president, Donald Trump sold himself as a master negotiator, able to extract whatever he wanted from anyone, and pay little in return. 

But having passed the 100-day mark in his presidency with little to show for his efforts, it appears as if his vaunted bargaining skills have let him down. So much so that Slate, the Week, and the New Republic have all literally written stories headlined "Donald Trump is a Terrible Negotiator." The New Republic actually used "terrible" twice.

And it's not just liberals excoriating Trump's deal-making prowess, either.

Writing in the conservative magazine The National Interest, Christopher Preble said that Trump "seems to derive particular pleasure from humiliating [suckers] after he’s taken them to the cleaners. In foreign policy, he appears to want to take all of our adversaries to the woodshed, or at least make them believe that he will. I’m particularly skeptical that his curious brand of deal-making will easily translate into stunning diplomatic breakthroughs."

In retrospect, some of Trump's quotes about negotiating demonstrate that what worked for him in real estate is counterproductive when negotiating complex budgetary matters, or facing off with nuclear-armed despots.

As Leslie Mulligan writes in a review of Trump's famed 1992 book "The Art of the Deal" for negotiation training firm Watershed Associates, "he liberally uses old-school negotiating tactics, which may work one time, for one deal, but do not necessarily play well in long-term business relationships."

Here are a few of Trump's tactics: 

"My style of deal–making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing to get what I'm after. Sometimes I settle for less than I sought, but in most cases I still end up with what I want." 

The 2017 spending bill that recently sailed through Congress and will keep the government running until September is a perfect example of how Trump applied this "Art of the Deal" quote to a negotiation, only to lose badly. Trump demanded billions in funding for his border wall, threatened to withhold money for Affordable Care Act subsidies, and demanded massive cuts to government agencies like the National Institutes of Health.

As two negotiation experts write in Harvard Business Review "you don’t need an amazing deal—you need an implementable deal." The actual spending bill that will become law has no money for the border wall, includes critical funding for ACA subsidies and a massive increase in NIH funding. Trump aimed high, and spun the bill as a win anyway, but was unable to implement what he wanted.

In 1984, The Washington Post produced an in-depth profile of the then-38-year-old Trump, portraying him as a "brassy" boy wonder, transforming New York City with his opulent buildings.

At one point, Trump began telling the Post, seemingly unprompted, about how he'd negotiate arms reduction with the then-Soviet Union, insinuating that he could do it better than actual professionals dealing with the Cold War at the time. 

"It's something that somebody should do that knows how to negotiate and not the kind of representatives that I have seen in the past ... It would take an hour-and-a-half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles ... I think I know most of it anyway. You're talking about just getting updated on a situation ..."

Cut to over 30 years later, and it's still not clear whether Trump has educated himself on the powerful weapons at his disposal.

As late as 2016, he hadn't learned the pillars of what's called the "nuclear triad" and he takes only short, vague briefings—like he said he would in 1984. As the conservative National Review fretted before the election, "you would think that at some point in the intervening 32 years, Trump would have taken that 90-minute briefing on everything you need to know about missiles."

"You can't con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on."

Trump is seemingly admitting in this "Art of the Deal" quote that you actually can con people, an awkward admission for a president who has been called a "con artist" by everyone from liberal comedian Bill Maher to Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

What becomes apparent is that Trump's idea of negotiating is to tell people what they want to hear for as long as possible.

The two negotiators writing in Harvard Business Review rebut this by saying, "you have to have the courage to tell supporters what they don’t want to hear... If you have never taken a stance against what your supporters want to hear, you cannot hope to negotiate effectively—or lead—when it matters most."

While actively promoting deception, he treats the ability to negotiate as if it were an inherited trait.

"More than anything else, I think deal–making is an ability you’re born with. It’s in the genes.”  

Beyond its disturbing connotations of genetic superiority, Trump boils deal-making down to something that you're either good at naturally, or will never get good at. This leaves out room for getting better at dealing with the high stakes of the presidency.

As Watershed Associates' Mulligan writes, "we can all improve, by enhancing our current negotiation skill set, adding some better strategies, and reinforcing our confidence."