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Negotiations that benefit from Trump’s absence could prevent shutdown


There has arguably never been a time in Trump’s life when he viewed himself as more of a central character in high-stakes negotiations than he does now, in his current role as president of the United States.

But in reality, people close to Trump have long since realized that his active participation in sensitive negotiations is often more likely to endanger a good outcome than to advance it.

“The president tweets and talks aggressively about topics that he thinks are winning issues, and that can translate into a lot of pressure on negotiators at the working level, both the politicals and the career” bureaucrats, said a former Trump administration official who has participated in high-level trade talks led by the president. “Some issues are better without a lot of heat.”

Not everyone is as measured in their critiques.

“Trump is an anarchist. It was his approach in business, it is his approach as president,” said Jack O’Donnell, a former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in a June interview with The New York Times.

“It does not take good negotiating skills to cause chaos. Will this ever lead to concessions? Maybe, but concessions to what? Not anything that resembles a deal,” O’Donnell added. “I just do not see him getting much done.”

That Trump could prove to be a net negative for sensitive negotiations is a tough pill to swallow for a president who ran as the world’s greatest dealmaker. On the campaign trail, Trump pledged to strike “beautiful” deals with America’s allies, and to extract painful concessions from his adversaries.

But two years into his first term, many of the deals that Trump has directed the most attention toward have yet to materialize. There is no trade deal with China, no immigration deal with Congress, no nuclear deal with North Korea, and no deal to repeal and replace Obamacare.

This is not to say that there have not been any big deals signed on Trump’s watch. This fall, there was a major agreement reached to update NAFTA for the 21st century. The talks that led to this deal were overseen by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. But Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, also played a key role in resolving tensions that Trump had aggravated.

There was also a deal reached last weekend to keep the Paris climate agreement alive. This time, the deal came together with the help of U.S. negotiators despite Trump’s announcement last year that the U.S. would withdraw from the pact at the earliest date allowed under the rules, which is late 2020.

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