The art of doing deals with Donald Trump
Since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, foreign and national security policy experts have been inundated with calls asking the same questions: What is Trump’s foreign policy? How should we deal with the new administration?
During the campaign, candidate Trump and his surrogates professed many — often contradictory — foreign policy positions and goals. Even as the Trump administration began to form, more policy inconsistencies came to light.
There was one overriding theme in the Trump campaign’s approach to foreign policy: Prioritising the United States’ immediate requirements, an objective the administration seeks to accomplish by following the unconventional management style of Trump’s business empire.
In 1987, Trump published Trump: The Art of the Deal, which became a bestseller. This part-memoir and part-advice book described Trump’s rise from the middle-class borough of Queens in New York to his glamorous life as a high-end real estate developer in Manhattan.
Trump’s personal background is that of a man setting out on his own and driven to achieve ambitious goals but it are the business-advice segments of the book, detailing his management style, that shed far more light on his likely approach to foreign affairs.
World leaders beginning to work with the Trump administration need to understand his “art” and learn how to create their own deals with him.
The book details how Trump conceives his plans, always thinking big: “My style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward. I aim very high and then I just keep pushing and 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,” Trump says in the book. He concludes that the best deals are “when each side gets something it wants from the other”.
Trump has adopted his business acumen and style to the White House. This new administration will be all about achieving the best deals for what Trump sees as Americans’ immediate needs.
To balance this, Trump also warned those who engage with him on this level and those who do not offer what he needs: “In most cases I’m very easy to get along with. I’m very good to people who are good to me but when people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard.”
And 20 years before entering the White House, Trump described how to deal with the media: “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story and the more sensational the better… The point is that if you are a little different, a little outrageous or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”
Trump will change how the United States operates in trade, diplomacy and security — it will always be about the deal. For countries to work successfully with the new administration, they must understand the new paradigm and work for their best deal, too.
If they do not understand the art of the deal, if they are not adaptable, if they are not flexible and if they do not offer the right products, they will fail.
If countries offer a deal that does not prioritise the United States’ immediate interests — as defined by Trump — they will fail. Trump will not make a deal that he believes does not put America first.
If foreign governments wait for Trump to make the first move, they will fail, as he will offer them a deal they either cannot accept or for which they will pay a higher price. If countries offer one big overreaching deal, they will fail, as they will have nothing else to offer when Trump asks again.
Trump filled his cabinet with strong military leaders and deal-making businessmen. It would be wise for countries to work on this level and ensure they have professional teams in Washington to engage with the new administration on its terms.