Trump Negotiates a New Deal with American Voters
  In God We Trust

Trump Negotiates a New Deal with American Voters


By Jonathan F. Keiler

Donald Trump's surge in the polls coincides not only with the public's growing appreciation of Hillary Clinton's moral and physical decrepitude, but also with the revamping of his own campaign with new managers and a new deliberate, positive, and mostly mistake-free approach to the coming election.  It also appears to reflect Trump's approach to business, at least as he appears to have conducted it earlier in his career.  Then Trump depicted himself primarily as an optimistic but realistic negotiator and deal-maker.

As a businessman, Trump pushed for more than might be commonly asked and rarely backed down, which is typical of successful negotiators.  He now appears to be conducting the campaign as a sort of negotiation with the American people, to buy into the idea he can be president, and he's succeeding. 

In a recent column, Charles Krauthammer proposed that Trump's recent success is a product of the ability to continually present a new version of himself to the public, aided and abetted by our frenetic, confused, and inattentive pop culture, of which he is a part.  There is no doubt truth in that assessment. 

Beyond that, it is also plausible that what we are seeing now a more authentic manifestation of the man who built a real estate empire, as opposed to the one who became a pop culture celebrity and reality star.

Trump won the Republican primary essentially as a version of the latter.  Bombastic, aggressive, and often rude, he attracted media attention and a loyal following, not very different from that of a typical upper-class urban reality star, like "Housewife of New York."  Such is our culture today, that overarching preening drama and self-regard are admired and imitated.  Successful "Housewives" know this and deliberately act the role.  Those who can't, who display a semi-normal amount of humility or consideration, get cut. 

Trump honed that skill in his own reality series.  His success in the primaries seemed to convince him that it was the route to success in the general election.  It wasn't.  Reality stars are not really widely popular.  Rather, they have a devoted following of people who particularly like them or their show, while others follow different celebrities or disdain the whole thing.  Trump won a group of devotees but was unable to expand it.  His shenanigans pleased them but few others and attracted too much negative press.

In his book Art of the Deal, Trump does not come across as an over-dramatic reality star.  When he was making his first big deals, like the rebuilding of the Commodore hotel near Penn Station, he lived (at least he claims) in a small Manhattan loft, drove his own car, and alternatively schmoozed or outmaneuvered his rivals.  He was not a wallflower, but he was not the over-the-top personality he's become since.

And like most successful negotiators, he (or at least his lawyers) sweated the details.  Trump also often saw promise where others saw decay.  He built value into otherwise neglected properties.  He also tended to get on the right side of contractual obligations.  His ability to escape liability on generous financing when his projects came up a cropper, while hardly noble or a sign that his business acumen was always brilliant, is evidence of that.

The conventional wisdom is that Trump's outreach to African-Americans, his national child care proposal, and tempering his position on immigration issues (which Krauthammer parrots) are geared toward softening his image in upper-middle-class suburban districts where he is weak, rather than actually winning the votes of blacks, Latinos, or poor people in need.  Perhaps.  But it's likely something more.  A good negotiator refuses to accept the boilerplate that a better situated rival tries to force down his throat.  He makes an issue of those contractual clauses the other side expects are already part of the deal, and he tries to renegotiate them.  Even if he fails, he'll likely win concessions elsewhere, and oftentimes, if the good negotiator is persistent enough, he won't fail. 

The Democrats have tried to force a boilerplate political contract on this country since Roosevelt's own New Deal with the nation.  Over nearly a century, that deal has become what lawyers call a contract of adhesion – that is, a contract that inherently is unfair because the negotiating position of the parties to it is unconscionably unequal; the terms dense, complex, and one-sided; and the remedies all to the stronger party.  Since the New Deal, the media have made the negotiating position of the parties inherently unequal, the regulatory state is a virtually impenetrable complex of directives that allow a Democrat president to govern without check by Congress, and it is all secured by a politicized judiciary that makes remedies one-sided.  The result is a balkanized and confused electorate, large portions of which – blacks, Jews, Latinos, gays – reflexively vote Democratic, regardless of whether it is really to their benefit. 

Trump is at least trying to undo this deal by directly addressing these inequities.  He is engaging directly with African-American voters, forthrightly addressing immigration with the Mexican president, and even offering a Democratic-sounding handout with respect to the childcare initiative.  Meanwhile, he is willing to throw away terms that do him no good, even if it goes against the convictions of some of his more devoted supporters, such as his position on Obama's birthplace. 

The effect is threefold.  First, these moves do help humanize Trump and make him appear more presidential than the shallow and cantankerous candidate who dominated the Republican primaries.  Second, they get under the skin of the Democrat leadership and their media enablers, throw them off stride, and leave them flailing with little but tired and shrill ad hominen attacks to fall back on.  And third, Trump may actually win some votes.  If a new Los Angeles Times poll is correct, Trump is attracting nearly 20% of black voters and over 30% of Latinos.  That is deadly to a Democratic presidential hopeful.

Trump is turning the tables on Hillary and the Democrats, wearing them down at the bargaining table, and turning the dynamic of the race in his favor.  Conventional wisdom was that Trump would have to throw haymakers and caution to the wind in the debates, but it now seems that this will be Hillary's task.  If Trump can keep his cool over the next seven weeks, he is likely to out-negotiate the Democrats for the American vote in November.