The Great Negotiator
Those watching Trump’s sudden and complete cave to the Democrats on amnesty for illegal immigrants might be wondering if this indicates that Trump is a somewhat less brilliant negotiator than his admirers claim. Not necessarily — for the quality of a negotiator’s maneuvers is determined not by what you thought he was aiming at, but by what he was really aiming at.
First, the case for Trump being the most inept negotiator of all time:
- When meeting with Senate leaders, Trump told the Democrats that he would sign any immigration bill they put on his desk, even if he didn’t agree with it. When Dianne Feinstein, perhaps startled at this, asked whether he meant he would sign a clean DACA bill, Trump said yes. In effect, he handed the Democrats the amnesty issue on a silver platter.
- The Democrats forced a so-called government shutdown which lasted only three days, and resulted in everyone, right and left, including even the media, declaring the whole episode a monumental defeat for the Democratic leadership. In response to this, Trump immediately promised that the “Dreamers” had nothing to worry about, and that all 700,000 of them would be taken care of, not merely with work visas and residency status, as with President Obama’s original Dream Act, but with a path to citizenship. In other words, he offered a massive concession to the losing side in the debate, at a moment when not only Trump’s base, but also the American population at large, had shown lukewarm enthusiasm for that side of the issue. (Which is why the shutdown failed — the Democrats realized they were only appealing to their radical fringe vanguard.)
- The next day, with the Democratic leadership still reeling from their shutdown failure, not to mention the peculiarity of having “their” issue — aka amnesty for illegal aliens — stolen from them by a nominally Republican president, Trump doubled-down on his completely unnecessary concession to the losing side, proposing that more than a million “undocumented immigrants” in addition to the people previously included in DACA could also be granted a path to citizenship. Citizenship — the holy grail of the progressive plan for illegal immigrants — was never officially on the table before. Trump himself put it there, unsolicited.
So there you have it, a pretty clear case of President Trump as the most self-defeating negotiator of all time: promising things he had no need to promise, conceding to his rivals at exactly the moment he seemingly had them right where he wanted them, and then even exceeding his own unnecessary concessions with superfluous concessions or “compromises” that no one even asked for.
But again, as noted above, the question of whether this makes Trump a bad negotiator depends on what we assume Trump himself wants in this scenario. If we assume that he is acting as Republican presidents have previously acted — wishing to resist the move toward rewarding criminality with citizenship, and trying to be sensible and “compassionate” without simply spitting on the rule of law and risking the long-term character of the national electorate — then Trump’s recent leaps far to the left of Obama on this issue can only be interpreted as evidence that he is indeed the most inept negotiator imaginable.
On the other hand, if we assume that a path to citizenship is Trump’s own real goal, but one which he feels the need to mask, since it flies in the face of his party’s long-term platform and everything he led his ardent followers to believe about his stance during the election campaign, then his recent rapid regression from “America first” to “make them all citizens” may be judged in a different light. For in this case we must realize that Trump is not really negotiating with the Democrats at all, since he is entirely on their side — and on the most extreme expression of their side — but with his own pre-election persona.
That is, his strategy of the moment makes perfect sense if we see that what he is really doing is trying to have his cake and eat it too; namely, to keep the adulation of a base that cleaved to him precisely because they wanted a man who would be tough on immigration, while simultaneously sliding into a policy position more in line with his real long-held beliefs. How to achieve this apparent contradiction without being called out on it? By presenting his policy proposal — which is what he has wanted all along — as a necessary evil, a “compromise” or “concession” to get funding for the border wall.
The Democrats were humiliated by the recent shutdown, and have basically had nothing to contribute to the discussion this week. Trump is not negotiating with them at all. He is negotiating with himself — the real New York values progressive vs. the alpha male campaign persona. He is banking, as duplicitous self-promoters always do — as his political role model Bill Clinton always did — that in the end both sides in this optics “debate” will come up winners. If he can convince his base that amnesty is a necessary compromise to build the blessed wall, while actually forwarding his personal goal of a “bill of love” for illegal immigrants, then the great battle of Trump vs. Trump comes out a draw. Everybody wins. Everybody named Trump, that is.
In the end, I’m slowly beginning to warm to the idea, pushed by his cultists for so long, that Trump really is an ingenious negotiator. My only quibble with them is over what his negotiation is intended to achieve. Let’s just say it isn’t at all clear to me that making America great again has anything to do with it.