Donald Trump, dealmaker? Not so much.

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He nears the end of his first term in Washington on Wednesday by abruptly ending the possibility of a deal to provide more money into the economy as it seeks to dig out from a massive hole created by the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have instructed my representatives to stop negotiating until after the election when, immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon. It was a massive shock — coming less than 24 hours after Trump had been released from Walter Reed medical center after being hospitalized with coronavirus — and immediately sent the stock market tumbling.

Official Washington was stunned by the news, with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had been engaged in ongoing stimulus negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, speculating that Trump’s move might have something to do with the medicine he had been receiving to treat Covid-19.

“Believe me, there are people who think that steroids have an impact on thinking,” Pelosi told House Democrats on a call organized after Trump’s announcement, according to CNN’s Phil Mattingly. “So I just don’t know.”

Regardless of the reasons behind Trump’s sudden decision to call off the talks, the practical effect will be to ensure there is no further stimulus money allocated by Congress before the end of its current term. And for Trump personally, the lack of a deal represents a remarkable failing of one of the central promises of his presidency: That he could make deals that other longtime Washington politicians could only dream about.

The seminal text of Trumpism — to the extent a cohesive worldview exists — is the billionaire businessman’s “Art of the Deal.” In the introduction to that book, he writes:

“Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully or write poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals. That’s how I get my kicks.”

In announcing his presidential campaign in the summer of 2015, Trump put his deal-making prowess center stage. “Now, our country needs — our country needs a truly great leader, and we need a truly great leader now,” he said. “We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.'”

Throughout the 2016 campaign, he leaned on the idea that the only solution to a broken Washington was an out-of-the-box business leader who understood the leverage needed to make deals.

In the White House, that rhetoric continued.

“With deals — that’s what I do, is deals,” Trump said in May 2018 in regards a China trade deal. He added around that same time: “I’ve made a lot of deals. I know deals, I think, better than anybody knows deals. You never really know.”

But viewed broadly, Trump’s first term has been defined by the deals he didn’t do. Trump promised to force Mexico to pay for the construction of the southern border wall. He said he would renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal. That he would make a peace deal between Israel and Palestine. That he would pass a new health care bill. That he would pass a new gun control measure.

And Trump has also pulled America out of a number of international coalitions — including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Accords. He’s also cut American funding for the World Health Organization and the United Nations.
Trump has, as he did on Tuesday, blamed these deal failures on bad actors — domestically and internationally — who actively undermine compromise. “Nancy Pelosi is asking for $2.4 Trillion Dollars to bailout poorly run, high crime, Democrat States, money that is in no way related to COVID-19,” Trump tweeted. “We made a very generous offer of $1.6 Trillion Dollars and, as usual, she is not negotiating in good faith.”

Which, well, OK. But remember: Deals were very hard to come by prior to Trump’s arrival in Washington. Partisans with very different priorities as to what Congress should do — and how they should do it — are nothing new. And Trump cast himself as the one person with the resume, experience and skill set to break these logjams.

By any — and every — measure, Trump has failed to make good on that promise. His shutdown of stimulus negotiations on Tuesday are simply an exclamation point on that failure.

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