Commentary: Trump kept one campaign promise. The shutdown is proof.
Over and over and over, first as a candidate and then as president, Donald Trump made a pledge to voters: He would run the White House as like he's run his business. That's a promise that he's kept.
At midnight Friday, Jan. 19, the federal government shut down following a week of meandering, fruitless negotiations that foundered in part due to partisan differences on immigration policy and funding for the president's border wall with Mexico. But the truly divisive, convulsive force that upended negotiations meant to keep the government open for business was simply Trump himself.
Let the president jog your memory about what he said he had in store for the country as he took the federal government's reins last year.
"Government stagnation has hindered our ability to properly function," Trump said in March. "I promised the American people I would produce results, and apply my 'ahead of schedule, under budget' mentality to the government."
Trump actually has had myriad problems delivering the goods ahead of schedule and under budget throughout his business career, but let's leave that one aside for the moment. Grand statements about bringing business know-how and competitive mojo to governing are sort of a thing for Trump and his extended family.
Let the president's son-in-law -- who was supposed to deliver peace to the Middle East and streamline the federal government -- also jog your memory about how things were meant to play out in Trumplandia.
"The government should be run like a great American company," Jared Kushner said almost a year ago. "Our hope is that we can achieve successes and efficiencies for our customers, who are the citizens."
Young Jared has made some epically bad decisions in his business career, including overpaying for a prestigious Fifth Avenue skyscraper that his family really couldn't afford to own or manage all by themselves. But that's one of the things that makes him something of a soulmate for the president: Both of them, as young men, dipped into a relatively stable pool of funds created and secured by their entrepreneurial fathers, then splattered the money against canvases of ill-considered business ideas.
In the president's case, bad business decisions -- and an inability to manage budgets, deadlines and his own finances -- brought him to the brink of personal bankruptcy in the early 1990s. After he escaped that debacle, he still ultimately managed to tally six corporate bankruptcies. The Trump of "The Apprentice" years was a carnival barker who fostered a cult of personality, not a business wizard who built and managed complex, efficient bureaucracies.
Qualities anybody who succeeds in business should have are an ability to focus on the right things, prioritize them and then work hard. Yet one of the tragicomic aspects of the government shutdown is that the president appeared to be more concerned about making sure he could get out of Washington to attend a fundraiser at his Palm Beach club that was meant as a celebration of his first year in office than he was about nailing down an agreement to keep the government running.
And really, where was the hard work? During his years running his business from Trump Tower, Trump was known to roll into the office late in the morning and depart sometime in the afternoon -- a habit that apparently has carried over into the White House, where aides try to keep his schedule clear until 11 a.m. each day. The president's spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, tweeted a shout-out to her boss over the weekend, complimenting him on his work ethic during the shutdown. But the photo she included -- with Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and Hope Hicks all chuckling at a casually dressed POTUS -- doesn't really convey, "We're knocking ourselves out here."
Great dealmakers are deeply informed about the goals they're pursuing (Trump, as he has throughout his presidency, showed a lack of sophistication and familiarity about policy -- especially immigration policy). Great dealmakers ensure they have the financial or political backing they need to drive toward a solution (Trump lacked the votes he needed even from his own party to avoid a shutdown). And great dealmakers maintain a certain level of trust among their supporters and their competitors that their word will be their bond (Republicans complained last week repeatedly about Trump's unpredictability and random tweeting, trust eroded, and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer spoke for every Democrat involved in the talks when he said that trying to cut a deal with Trump was like "negotiating with Jell-O.")
Trump has always known that he's had an inordinately long run of successful head-fakes and dodges, managing to elude accountability even though he's called for scrutiny of, well, fast-talkers like him for years now. Just take a look at the president's own Twitter feed:
"You can't con people, at least not for long. If you don't deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on." - The Art of The Deal, Dec 10, 2012
So here we are. The president who said he would run the government just as he ran his businesses is doing just that. Anyone surprised by all of this just wasn't paying attention.
Story by Timothy L. O'Brien. O'Brien is the executive editor of Bloomberg Gadfly and Bloomberg View. He has been an editor and writer for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and Talk magazine. His books include "TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald."