The Art of the Deal

What advice does Trump’s book give to the current President of the United Sates?

Back in 1987, Donald Trump published a book that was part autobiography and part extended essay on how to become a winning negotiator. The Art of the Deal became a number one bestseller, and it was one of the things which put Trump into the public spotlight.

The book contains 11 winning negotiating tactics, presumably at the heart of the art of the deal. Each is listed below, accompanied by quotes from the book and a commentary on any lessons that the current POTUS might draw from them. (It is said they are drawn from Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking. However it is unlikely that Trump could be charged with plagiarism, since it is unlikely he actually wrote his autobiography.).

1. Think big: “I like thinking big. I always have. To me it's very simple: if you're going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big... I wasn't satisfied just to earn a good living. I was looking to make a statement. I was out to build something monumental, something worth a big effort.”

I take it that the Wall is to be his monument. It is unlikely there is going to be much else.

2. Maximize the options: “I never get too attached to one deal or one approach. For starters, I keep a lot of balls in the air, because most deals fall out, no matter how promising they seem at first.”

One is struck that POTUS Trump rarely has a number of options in each policy area. Jammed in one, he switches attention to another.

3. Know your market: “I like to think that I have that instinct. That's why I don't hire a lot of number-crunchers, and I don't trust fancy marketing surveys. I do my own surveys and draw my own conclusions.”

He seems to know his core market well, but seems oblivious to it being a minority that is probably losing market share. Political leadership is usually about building coalitions.

4. Enhance your location: “Perhaps the most misunderstood concept in all of real estate is that the key to success is location, location, location. First of all, you don't necessarily need the best location. What you need is the best deal.”

Probably not entirely relevant to a POTUS. A reminder that Trump’s achievements have been in property dealing (and publicity) not political and policy leadership.

5. Get the word out: “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.”

Yep. Message pursued.

6. Deliver the goods: “You can't con people, at least not for long. You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.”

He must be gloomy about the last sentence..

7. Contain the costs: “I believe in spending what you have to. But I also believe in not spending more than you should.”

Even on tax cuts and monuments.

8. Have fun: “I don't kid myself. Life is very fragile, and success doesn't change that... Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game.”

I wonder if he is really enjoying himself as POTUS, other than the joy he seems to take in bullying.

9. Use your leverage: “The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you're dead... Leverage is having something the other guy wants. Or better yet, needs. Or best of all, simply can't do without. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case, which is why leverage often requires imagination, and salesmanship. In other words, you have to convince the other guy it's in his interest to make the deal.”

Good advice. He appears extraordinarily desperate at the moment.

10. Fight back: “Much as it pays to emphasize the positive, there are times when the only choice is confrontation.... 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. The risk is that you'll make a bad situation worse, and I certainly don't recommend this approach to everyone. But my experience is that if you're fighting for something you believe in - even if it means alienating some people along the way - things usually work out for the best in the end.”


11 Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself: “I always go into the deal anticipating the worst. If you plan for the worst – if you can live with the worst – the good will always take care of itself.”

I went to The Art of the Deal because I was interested in this issue. Graham Richardson, a very savvy Australian politician, recommended ‘first build your back door’, the point being that policies frequently go wrong so think about the alternatives. (Few New Zealand politicians are as strategic as Richardson.) Trump’s notion of protecting the downside is a less elegant formulation.

But he rarely follows his advice. Perhaps he is a poor communicator, but he gives the impression he makes a decision without much attention to the downside, and when it goes wrong, he thrashes around for an exit strategy. Admittedly skilled advisers find reinterpretations when he backs down and he has often reversed positions without shame. (The Syrian withdrawal is a recent example).

Were the president’s emergency powers intended to be his backdoor over the Wall? Or did he latch onto them when he found he was blocked? As I write, he has decided the powers cannot give him the outcome he wants. But, then again, he is apt to change his mind quite rapidly.

Look again at his principle 9, use your leverage. I doubt that is guiding Trump much either. Principle 10 seems relevant, but he does not seem to understand the distinction between fighting and winning.

I am told that in contrast to Obama, who said that reading kept him sane as president, Trump prefers to watch TV – Fox News, they tell me. It might be worth his while to read, perhaps for the first time, The Art of the Deal by, so its cover says, Donald Trump.