President Trump, Deal Maker? Not So Fast

His 17 months in office have in fact been an exercise in futility for the art-of-the-deal president.

  1. No deal on immigration.
  2. No deal on health care.
  3. No deal on gun control.
  4. No deal on spending cuts.
  5. No deal on Nafta.
  6. No deal on China trade.
  7. No deal on steel and aluminum imports.
  8. No deal on Middle East peace.
  9. No deal on the Qatar blockade.
  10. No deal on Syria.
  11. No deal on Russia.
  12. No deal on Iran.
  13. No deal on climate change.
  14. No deal on Pacific trade.

.. Even routine deals sometimes elude Mr. Trump, or he chooses to blow them up.

.. “Trump is an anarchist,” said Jack O’Donnell, a former president of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, who became a sharp critic. “It was his approach in business, it is his approach as president. 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. I just do not see him getting much done.”

.. I don’t think it’s that counterintuitive to say that playing hardball will lead to better trade deals eventually,” said Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former aide to Mr. Trump.

.. We’ll see what the final outcome is, but it’s already a success just to get them to the table.”

.. the major tax-cutting package that passed late last year. But even that was negotiated mainly by Republican lawmakers, who said Mr. Trump did not seem engaged in the details.

.. And as legislative challenges go, handing out tax cuts without paying for them is not exactly the hardest thing that politicians do.

.. In effect, the agreement with Mr. Kim is like a deal to sell parts of Trump Tower without settling on a price, date, inspection or financing. It is not nearly as advanced as agreements that President Bill Clinton and Mr. Bush made with North Korea, both of which ultimately collapsed.

.. But no modern president has sold himself on the promise of negotiating skills more than Mr. Trump has. He regularly boasts that deals will be “easy” and “quick” and the best ever.

.. He has pulled out of Mr. Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, Paris climate accord and Trans-Pacific Partnership, but promises to negotiate better versions of those deal have gone nowhere.

.. Mr. Trump set his sights on what he called “the ultimate deal,” meaning peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. He said it was “frankly maybe not as difficult as people have thought.” A year later, his team is only now preparing to release a plan.

.. “What the president seemingly fails to understand is that in foreign policy and in trade policy — unlike in real estate transactions — the parties are all repeat players,” 

.. “The country you insult or seek undue advantage over today you will have to work with again tomorrow.”

.. Mr. Trump’s approach so far has been to make expansive demands and apply as much pressure as he can. He argues that crushing sanctions he imposed on North Korea forced Mr. Kim to meet. He now hopes to extract concessions from China, Canada and Europe after slapping punishing tariffs on them.

.. “Trump is a bilateral player, in part because that’s what he is used to from his building days, but also because he keeps himself the king, the decider, the strongman,” said Wendy Sherman, who was Mr. Obama’s lead negotiator on the Iran nuclear deal. “In the case of North Korea, however, he wouldn’t have gotten this far — which isn’t all that far — without the South Koreans or the Chinese.”

..  When he gave up on immigration on Friday, he blamed it on Senate Democrats, even though the immediate impasse was among House Republicans who do not need the other party to pass a bill.

.. “Republicans should stop wasting their time on Immigration until after we elect more Senators and Congressmen/women in November,”

.. It was in effect an acknowledgment by Mr. Trump that he cannot reach across the aisle and can only govern with Republicans.

.. the challenge on immigration is that the president has to grapple not just with Democrats but also with Republicans who do not share his philosophy on the issue.

.. Mr. O’Donnell, the former casino president, said Mr. Trump has always oversold his deal-making skills. The casino he managed, Mr. O’Donnell noted, brought in $100 million a year yet still went bankrupt.

.. “The fact is, Trump casinos should have been one of the greatest success stories in the history of casino gambling, but bad deal making caused him to lose all three properties,” he said.

The Meaning of Ryan’s Departure

Paul Ryan’s fate over the past several years is as good an indication as any of how far our politics have fallen.

.. Though the anti-Ryan vitriol faded after Steve Bannon’s defenestration, he continued to be viewed with suspicion by the talk-radio crowd and other arms of Trump Inc.

This was his reward for attempting to drag his party, and the country, toward a grown-up reckoning with our debt. Nearly singlehandedly, Paul Ryan had managed to put tackling entitlements on the national agenda.

.. making incremental reforms now—with no changes for current beneficiaries or those in their 50s—can prevent drastic shortfalls and extreme benefit cuts that will be necessary in just 16 years when Social Security is depleted. The outlook is even worse for Medicare and Medicaid.

But Donald Trump arrived on scene with the supposedly blinding insight that changes to entitlements are unpopular. Well, no kidding. He promised never to touch Medicare and Social Security—not even to ensure their future solvency. And so, the responsible, future-oriented Paul Ryan found himself governing with a backward-looking, whistling past the graveyard president.

.. Ryan and the party he helped to lead also lost its compass on Ryan’s own signature issue—fiscal responsibility.

.. it would have been nice if the party that fulminated about the dangers of deficits in the Obama years had found anything at all to cut—particularly when the economy is growing and unemployment is low.

.. Under Republican guidance, the federal deficit will be roughly double what it was in the final year of the Obama administration.

.. What has Trump taught? That trade wars are the way to improve the lives of the working class? They are popular, at least with Republicans.

.. 65 percent of Republicans favored Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs.

.. We are not behaving as responsible adults. Our greatest political challenge is out of control debt. Our greatest social challenges are declining families, increasing dependency, and eroding social cohesion. The debt could have been addressed by government.

Trump considers media personality Larry Kudlow as top White House economic adviser

Media personality Larry Kudlow, a loquacious and energetic advocate of low taxes and free trade, has emerged as a leading candidate to replace Gary Cohn as director of the White House’s National Economic Council

.. Kudlow was an adviser to Trump during the 2016 campaign, working closely with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on the design of an initial tax plan. But Kudlow, in media appearances in the past month, has been critical of President Trump’s new plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports

.. Trump’s close relationship with Kudlow — and Kudlow’s experience speaking on television — have bolstered his candidacy for the job.

.. On March 3, Kudlow joined Steve Moore and Arthur Laffer in a column for CNBC.com that was sharply critical of Trump’s proposal to impose the new tariffs.

“Trump should also examine the historical record on tariffs, because they have almost never worked as intended and almost always deliver an unhappy ending,” they wrote.

.. It is unclear if Trump wants his next NEC director to advance an ambitious agenda or spend more time with the media defending the changes that have already taken place, such as tax cuts and efforts to roll back regulations.

Oh, What a Trumpy Trade War!

After all, trade (like racism) is an issue on which Trump has been utterly consistent over the years.

.. his views are based on zero understanding of the issues or even of basic facts, well, Trumpism is all about belligerent ignorance, across the board.

.. The real goal, instead, is to protect us from ourselves: to limit the special-interest politics and outright corruption that used to reign in trade policy.

Trumpocrats, however, don’t see corruption and rule by special interests as problems. You could say that the world trading system is, in large part, specifically designed to prevent people like Trump from having too much influence. Of course he wants to wreck it.

.. a trade war against the European Union would make America as a whole poorer, even if the E.U. didn’t retaliate (which it would). It would, however, benefit some industries that happen to face stiff European competition.

.. The small groups that benefit from protectionism often have more political influence than the much larger groups that are hurt.

.. the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930: Enough members of Congress were bought off, one way or another, to enact legislation that almost everyone knew was bad for the nation as a whole.

.. Tariff policy, which used to be one of the dirtiest, most corrupt aspects of politics both in the U.S. and elsewhere, has become remarkably (though not perfectly) clean.

.. the steel and aluminum tariffs, justified with an obviously bogus appeal to national security, clearly don’t pass the test.

.. But that won’t bother Trump. After all, we now basically have an

  • Environmental Protection Agency run on behalf of polluters, an
  • Interior Department run by people who want to loot federal land, an
  • Education Department run by the for-profit schools industry, and so on.

Why should trade policy be different?

Comments:

Remember, when the Republicans blamed Obama for leading from behind. Is Trump’s leadership what they call leading from in front? Isolationism is leading from in front? Is that what Republicans call leadership?

.. I remember a time when republicans disliked Russia and loved free trade. That was so last election cycle. Now it is the opposite. What changed?

..  Until my late 20s
(in the 1970s) the United States had what is called a “regulated capitalism“. This resulted in a more or less balanced arrangement of economic outcomes for the majority of people. All quintiles rose when the GDP rose. They were two sides of the same coin: when the economy prospered, the American people prospered. This is no longer true.

Trump rolls out tariff policies like a reality show — complete with cliffhangers

The president thrives on conflict and runs his White House as if he were the producer of a television show, placing characters in situations pumped up with tension and setting up tantalizing cliffhangers to keep viewers tuning in.

.. Although the idea of imposing tariffs on some imports was cheered at Trump’s campaign rallies, Republican lawmakers and members of his administration have argued that instituting penalties on steel and aluminum could prompt other countries to impose retaliatory tariffs that hurt American farmers, producers and manufacturers, including in states that were key to the president’s unexpected win in 2016.

.. “We have a very big meeting at 3:30,” Trump said. “I’d call it an economic meeting, something we have to do to protect our steel, our aluminum in our country.”

.. Trump wouldn’t say exactly what he had planned, but promised that it would be “very fair” and also “very flexible.” As reporters shouted out questions, the president confirmed that he would implement the tariff numbers

.. “I’ll have a right to go up or down, depending on the country, and I’ll have a right to drop out countries or add countries,” Trump said. “We just want fairness. Because we have not been treated fairly by other countries.”

.. Trump briefly mentioned the specifics of the new tariffs, but he mostly spoke longingly about the golden days of U.S. manufacturing and criticized countries like China and Japan for their “aggressive” practices.

“Our factories were left to rot, and to rust all over the place,” Trump said at one point. “Thriving communities turned into ghost towns. . . . The workers who poured their souls into building this great nation were betrayed, but that betrayal is now over.”

.. Trump asked some of the workers to speak. A worker from Kentucky said the tariffs would allow his plant to run at 100 percent capacity instead of 40 percent. Sauritch, the union leader from the Pittsburgh area, spoke emotionally about his father, Herman, losing his job in the 1980s because of an increase in imports.

“Well, your father Herman is looking down” from heaven, Trump said. “He’s very proud of you right now.”

Hollywood Contemplates Looking in the Mirror, Then Turns Away

Last night’s Academy Awards featured a lot of generalities and not much inspiration or speaking truth to power.

Last night’s Academy Awards broadcast was Hollywood’s way of addressing the sexual-harassment scandal without really addressing it, discussing it without really discussing it, and assuring the public that all the worst stuff is in the past and that no one needs to worry about it anymore.

Yes, it was nice to see Ashley Judd and Annabella Sciorra again, up on stage alongside Salma Hayek. But no one involved in the ceremony could ever quite come out and say why those three were up on stage.

.. The president’s defenses of protectionism are incoherent babble that is just factually wrong; Trump insists that “our Steel and Aluminum industries are dead” when the U.S. Department of Commerce figures show that since the beginning of 2009, the six major U.S. steel companies have collectively reported net earnings for 20 quarters.
.. The president still hasn’t figured out that you can’t change government policy as quickly and impulsively as you type out and send a Tweet.

By midnight Wednesday, less than 12 hours before the executives were expected to arrive, no one on the president’s team had prepared any position paper for an announcement on tariff policy, the official said. In fact, according to the official, the White House counsel’s office had advised that they were as much as two weeks away from being able to complete a legal review on steel tariffs.

There were no prepared, approved remarks for the president to give at the planned meeting, there was no diplomatic strategy for how to alert foreign trade partners, there was no legislative strategy in place for informing Congress and no agreed upon communications plan beyond an email cobbled together by Ross’s team at the Commerce Department late Wednesday that had not been approved by the White House. 

.. By Thursday afternoon, the U.S. stock market had fallen and Trump, surrounded by his senior advisers in the Oval Office, was said to be furious.

.. This reminds me of Steve Bannon’s “plan” to announce the immigration restrictions without any warning in the first days of Trump’s presidency. No one in the rest of the government was prepared to implement them; John Kelly, then the secretary of Homeland Security, learned from television that Trump had signed the order.

..  he’s flat-out wrong when he claims, “Maybe it’ll cost a little bit more, but we’ll have jobs.”

.. the decline of jobs in the steel and aluminum industries predates the competition with China by decades. Industry experts know that this is mostly because of innovation and industry consolidation. The era of labor-intensive metal production is over.

The real reason Trump wants to start a trade war

On most policy issues, when President Trump states his position, you can tell that he’s blurting out an unformed idea that is always subject to change. No one is really surprised when, a day or an hour later, he says the exact opposite, because when it comes to policy, generally speaking, he doesn’t know and he doesn’t care.

There is one exception, however: trade.

When a country (USA) is losing many billions of dollars on trade with virtually every country it does business with, trade wars are good, and easy to win. Example, when we are down $100 billion with a certain country and they get cute, don’t trade anymore-we win big. It’s easy!

Wilbur Ross on now: “There’s about 1 ton of steel in a car. The price of a ton of steel is $700 or so, so 25% on that would be one half of 1% price increase on the typical $35000 car. So it’s no big deal.”
.. Free trade has widely distributed benefits and concentrated costs, while a tariff like this one that is meant to help a particular industry has concentrated benefits and widely distributed costs.
.. There have always been two core ideas underlying his beliefs on trade. The first is that trade is a zero-sum contest in which the only goal is exporting goods. If we import something from another country, even if comparative advantage makes it perfectly reasonable for us to do so, then the other country has “won” and the United States has “lost.”
.. Trump’s second idea about trade is that it represents a kind of contest of pride, even manhood. When he talks about trade he nearly always says that other countries, particularly China, are “laughing at us.” When we, say, buy cheap consumer goods from abroad, it means we’re the sucker, the sap, the patsy.
.. Yet you’ve never heard Trump say exactly which provisions of NAFTA he dislikes or what he would change, probably because he doesn’t know himself. He just thinks that trade wars are good, and easy to win.
.. Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser, tried to argue to him that increased tariffs would hurt the economy by raising prices on goods that contain steel and aluminum, to which Trump replied that it’s “a small price to pay.” Since he sees this issue to be about not just jobs but even more importantly about pride and dignity, that won’t persuade him.

From where Trump stands, imposing the tariffs is an end in itself. It shows those foreigners that we won’t be taken advantage of, that we’re big and strong, that nobody’s going to laugh at us and get away with it. It’s “winning.” Even if we wind up losing.