Here’s How You Make a Deal, Mr. President
By Sen. Mark R. Warner
In the Wall Street Journal
Donald Trump ran for president telling a story of business prowess—the author of “The Art of the Deal” would come to Washington and solve the problems the politicians couldn’t. Two years later, the longest government shutdown on record is revealing gaping cracks in his facade.
Like the president, I’ve spent more time in business than in politics. In 20-plus years as an executive and investor, I did very well closing deals, building companies and creating jobs. As governor and a senator, I’ve relied on my business experience to get things done. Every day the shutdown drags on, it becomes clearer the president never learned lessons that successful executives know by heart:
• Always try to find a solution in which both sides come out ahead. Mr. Trump has refused to compromise or negotiate. As a result, he’s increasingly isolated in his demand that Congress fund his border wall. Each day it gets harder to find a face-saving solution to end his pointless standoff.
• Don’t surround yourself with yes men. You need smart experts who aren’t afraid to tell you when they think you’re making a mistake. Mr. Trump relies on a circle of sycophants, far-right lawmakers, and TV and radio hosts who either share his views or won’t voice their disagreements.
• Empower the people on your team. The president has made it clear that no one can credibly speak on his behalf. First, he indicated before Christmas that he would sign a continuing resolution the Senate unanimously passed—only to oppose the bill, leaving the majority leader holding the bag. He sent Mike Pence to the Hill to make an offer—then kneecapped the vice president by rejecting the proposal on national television. Later he undercut an attempt at negotiation by his Senate whisperer Lindsey Graham. The result? The President is left with nobody who can make sure the job gets done.
• Never burn bridges. Successful business leaders know that if a deal goes south, another is always around the corner. Mr. Trump has been so vicious during the shutdown that he might have crippled his ability to get things done in Congress. The White House keeps saying it wants to cut bipartisan deals on issues like infrastructure, but the president’s behavior suggests that he’ll continue to treat congressional Democrats the way he treated the contractors he stiffed on so many of his real-estate projects.
• Respect your workforce. When I was governor, we had to make painful cuts to balance the budget, which meant asking employees to do more with less. I made every effort to spend time with those affected and listen to their concerns. In contrast, Mr. Trump has shown no empathy for the 800,000 public servants who are going without pay. He’s been downright cavalier when asked how thousands of my constituents are supposed to pay their bills while he holds them hostage.
I don’t know how much longer this is going to go on, or how it’s going to end. But I do know this: Business-school professors and management consultants will have a case study of a self-proclaimed deal-maker with some of the worst negotiating and management instincts of all time.
Mr. Warner, a Democrat, is a U.S. senator from Virginia.