Well, so much for ‘The Art of the Deal.”

It’s hard to believe now, but when Donald Trump first began running for president, he claimed — based on his record in the business world — that he would be able to cut deals with not only friends and foes abroad but also Democrats in D.C. He claimed that his business acumen and experience in negotiating would translate to Washington, where he said he’d be able to break through the partisan logjam on issues ranging from immigration to health care.

Whether or not he actually believed his own rhetoric, it was enough to convince millions of Americans to put him in the Oval Office, despite his lack of political or governmental experience.

In all fairness to Trump, he hasn’t been entirely unsuccessful in this regard, even though it would be easy to let the media convince you otherwise. Not only was he able to get a U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement negotiated with those countries, but it also surprisingly sailed through Congress in easy bipartisan votes. He’s had successes in foreign policy as well, convincing the United Arab Emirates to formally establish diplomatic relations with Israel. He’s generally avoided fiscal standoffs, cutting a series of deals with Democrats to continue funding government and raise the debt ceiling.

At the beginning of the pandemic, it seemed that this pattern would continue. The CARES Act, which included the Paycheck Protection Program co-authored by Susan Collins, sailed through Congress with hardly any opposition at all. Now, at first this may not seem that impressive: One of the few things that both parties frequently agree on in Washington is to spend money that they don’t have. Republicans and Democrats may end up having different spending priorities, but there are few true fiscal hawks left in either party anymore.

Looking back at the 2007-2009 recession, though, and the legislative response to that economic downturn, the quick passage of the CARES Act becomes all the more impressive. The stimulus program developed by Democrats then, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, devolved quickly into partisan trench warfare. Republicans almost universally opposed the stimulus bill (only Collins, Olympia Snowe and Arlen Specter voted for it), and it infuriated conservatives. Though they couldn’t defeat the bill, they were able to use it as a rallying cry in next year’s midterm elections, enabling them to retake control of Congress.

Had he so desired, Trump could have run on these accomplishments. He could have bragged that on his watch, when the country faced a deep fiscal crisis, he was able to rally not only his own party to support much-needed economic stimulus, but also garner bipartisan support. That would have been a plausible case to make, and it would have made his constant refrain that impeachment was nothing more than a partisan “witch hunt” more believable.

Instead, Trump has run a largely negative campaign, seeking to undermine Joe Biden’s image as a moderate and associate him with the far left. That strategy has especially emerged during the pandemic and the racial unrest of the past summer, and it wasn’t entirely illogical. Biden has never been a big bipartisan dealmaker, nor has he shown much willingness to take on his own party. Instead, he’s generally placed himself squarely within the mainstream of his party while easily holding a reliable Senate seat from a small state. That argument, coupled with the idea that Trump can indeed make deals and buck his own party at times, could have been a compelling strategy.

Unfortunately, Trump completely blew up that argument last week when he terminated bipartisan negotiations over a new pandemic stimulus package. Although the end of talks doesn’t negate his earlier successes, this will certainly remain first and foremost in voters’ minds, especially this close to the election.

Now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that negotiations on a second stimulus package weren’t making much progress, but politically, it would have been better to drag them on indefinitely than to be the one to pull the plug. While Trump might have been right that the talks were going nowhere, he handed Democrats an easy political point by ending them himself. Unless it results in some sort of surprise, last-minute deal, Trump’s decision to end the negotiations before Election Day would appear to be a huge unforced error.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins.
He can be contacted at: [email protected]
Twitter: jimfossel


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