Can Donald Trump Negotiate His Way to the White House?

Can Donald Trump Negotiate His Way to the White House?


The 2016 presidential election will be forever be looked back upon as the year of the “Trump phenomenon.” The pundits have been shocked not once or twice, but repeatedly. The original announcement of his candidacy was met with reactions that ranged from polite dismissal to outright ridicule.

And then after a series of alleged missteps and outrageous statements, which resulted in the cancellation of TV appearances and his being dis-invited from a major conservative forum—belly-flops that were supposed to doom his candidacy, his poll numbers could only find one direction to go—straight up.

What’s behind his not only steady, but growing and increasingly enthusiastic, support? His ardent fans seem less interested in his policy positions than they are in the Trump persona—he’s a man who can shake things up, and get things done. More specifically, according to the Trump legend, he’s a deal-maker without parallel. He can negotiate the United States back to greatness.

Since I teach negotiating skills for a living, I’ve been asked many times how I would characterize Trump’s negotiating approach. To begin, his north star when negotiating is that he knows how to find negotiating leverage and he’s not afraid to use it. He says he’ll force the Mexican government to pay for the very wall that will bar its citizens from coming to the U.S.

But where does he find that leverage? He’s not only willing, but seemingly eager, to take the negotiation to a place where most people are afraid to go. Namely, by resorting to tactics that are not for the weak of heart. He’ll take a position which his opposer looks upon as extreme, even outrageous, and then he doesn’t back down. In fact, he doubles down, using threats to force them to knuckle under.

Will it work if he gets the chance to negotiate with the Mexicans? Will he be able to force Vladimir Putin to bend to his will? It may take us awhile, if ever, to discover the answer to those questions, but more immediately, will Trump’s tactics work with the Fox News network?

He regards one of Fox’s news anchors, Megyn Kelly, as an unfair nemesis, and wanted to exclude her from co-hosting Fox’s running of the debate coming up in front of the Iowa caucuses. His leverage? His participation in the debates has driven the ratings through the roof. Fox stands their ground, and backs up Kelly. Trump walks.

How will this play out politically? Detractors say Trump’s actions reveal his petty side and will hurt him in the upcoming caucus vote. Supporters see this as a display of his mettle: he backs down from no one. He is locked in a close contest with Ted Cruz. Will his latest negotiation help or hurt his chances? The vote is a few short days away. Stay tuned.

— Frank Mobus