Donald Trump’s business bible projected his image across the globe in the 1980s – the decade that taught us ‘greed is good’. But now it needs re-writing, and the ending is not likely to be a happy one
The most important thing to remember about Donald Trump’s best-selling breakthrough memoir, The Art of the Deal is that he didn’t write a word of it.
Also remember that, according to Tony Schwartz the man who ghost wrote it, The Donald didn’t even read it.
The third most important thing is that the mystique the book created around Trump, together with the celebrity, super-businessman image projected by his faux reality show phenomenon The Apprentice was undoubtedly instrumental in the narrative of his rise to become 45th President of the United States.
But now a new unfolding, unauthorised chapter – The Lost Art of the Deal – looks set to be the defining theme of Trump’s presidency and, perhaps, the instrument of its ultimate failure. Unless, of course, the escalating Russian connection inquiries curtail the Trump era before the US electorate get to pass judgement in 2020.
It’s the chapter that Schwartz predicted would be there to be written and it duly came to pass with President Trump’s humiliating defeat over his plan to replace Obamacare (his predecessor’s Affordable Care Act) with his own hastily-drafted healthcare reform legislation.
Humiliation made all the greater because the president had to withdraw his first major legislative bill late last week in the face of a congressional revolt by both moderate Republicans and around 30 hard-right members of the party’s Freedom Caucus.
Humiliation heaped both on the back of Trump’s constant core campaign platform of savaging President Obama’s flagship achievement and basing his bid for the White House on the declaration: ‘We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’.’
Quelle surprise then that the president’s white flag over Obamacare triggered mass ‘lost art of the deal’ mockery across social media, the mainstream media (including Fox News) and among Capitol Hill Democrats, delighted at the spectacle of Trump being thumped by his own party and the growing prospect of the Republican Party descending into a civil war that could negate its control of both Congress and the Senate.
The reaction of the neophyte President to such an ignominious setback surprised many White House insiders. Instead of the anticipated Twitter outburst, Trump became ‘sullen, shaken and subdued’, they reported.
Over the weekend and allegedly pressed into action by Steve Bannon and his Breitbart cohorts inside an increasingly factional White House team, the President did rediscover his Twitter feed and raged: ‘Democrats are smiling in DC that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club for Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood and Ocare!’
It was a desperate attempt to link the Republican revolt over Obamacare repeal with the abortion issue that so divides US public opinion but its impact only served to underscore how rattled Trump and his team truly are.
The chaotic blame game was well under way with conflicting White House sources briefing that the president blamed Paul Ryan, the Republican leader in the House, for the Obamacare fiasco or alternatively that he laid the blame on Bannon’s team for pushing health care reform above tax cuts on his policy priority list.
Meanwhile sources close to the President’s White House chief of staff Reince Priebus were briefing how his arch-rival, strategy chief Bannon had been dispatched to Capitol Hill to put the squeeze on Republican rebels by telling them: ‘This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.’ He failed miserably.
As one White House insider confided to me: ‘If you thought House of Cards was too full of far-fetched intrigue, think again. This is House of Cards in spades.’ Fair enough, considering this is an internally warring White House facing a barrage of explosive questions over its new incumbents’ links to the Kremlin, the resignation of its national security adviser, defeats in the courts over its ill-considered travel ban and now the devastating collapse of its first major legislation programme.
What shouldn’t be lost amid the irony of Trump’s health care reform bill being scuppered by the ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus (who didn’t consider it went far enough to obliterate Obamacare) is that moderate Republicans congressmen were opposed for very different reasons.
They were alarmed by opinion poll findings and town hall meetings flagging up that blue-collar and middle class Trump voters were belatedly waking up to just how badly they’d be hit by Obamacare’s demise, with 24 million fewer Americans having any health insurance. To those Republican congressmen it raised the painful spectre of voters delivering a knock out blow in the mid-term elections.
In essence, it was a victory for an unlikely alliance of the Republican hard right and its more compassionate left. Above all, it left Obama as the big winner and his successor, a man who once told me he planned to be the world’s top boxing promoter, reeling like a punch drunk novice contender.
It was a sign of just how badly Trump was staggering that the White House leaked a plan to name the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, to run a new office responsible for ‘streamlining and overhauling’ federal government, branded ‘The White House Office of American Innovation’. Like his father-in-law, a property developer by trade, Kushner opined: ‘The government should be run like a great American company.’
It was a comment that, not surprisingly, drew the response from Democrats on Capitol, and some conservative commentators, that Trump is fast discovering the hard way that running America is vastly different from being CEO of your own property empire; a realisation also dawning on some of his own voter base with his overall poll ratings sliding to 37% and his approval rate among those key male voters who secured his election victory down to around 50%.
But is the crushing collapse of Trump’s Obamacare reform just the beginning? The fate of his presidency may well now hinges on his massive and controversial tax cut policy being a success.
Even before last week’s health reform debacle, there were clear signs that the ‘Trump Bounce’ – which had seen investors push stock prices by 12% – was losing momentum.
Although the President and his inner circle have sought to counter that humiliation by indicating they’ll press ahead urgently ‘for big tax cuts and tax reforms’, the billions of dollars they planned to carve out of healthcare spending must inevitably impact on Trump’s pledges.
While some of those moderate Republicans who helped thwart Trump on Obamacare also fear that backing the president on the scale of his tax cut ambitions would play into the hands of the Democrats branding it a ‘gift horse for the very rich’ with a hefty price to pay in the mid-term elections for GOP senators and congressmen.
Already some within the Trump administration are whispering privately that the President will be forced to ‘retreat significantly’ from the tax reform boasts on the campaign trail and his post-inauguration declarations of intent.
While in a rare moment of candour, the President’s budget director told NBC’s influential Meet the Press programme in the wake of the healthcare climb down: ‘I think what happened is that Washington won … I think we learned this week that Washington is a lot more broken than the President thought it was. The status quo wins.’
Hardly sweet music to the ears of his boss, the man who brashly bragged he knew politics better than the politicians, would ‘drain the Washington swamp’ and all because he was the supreme master of the art of the deal.
Suddenly the lost art of the deal has struck home hard and painfully for the reality television star who fantasised how easy it would be to run the US the way he presided over The Apprentice.
None of which comes as any surprise to his aforementioned ghost writer Tony Schwartz who recalled: ‘Since 1987 I’ve watched Trump convince himself he had Written Art of the Deal. If he can lie about that, he can lie about anything. I put lipstick on a pig .’
Neither is Schwartz, so publicly remorseful about his role in helping to create the myth that took Trump to the White House, at all surprised by the record-speed plummet in the president’s poll ratings.
If he could rewrite The Art of the Deal today, he says, it would be a very different book. Title? ‘The Sociopath’. And, for the central character, it certainly wouldn’t have a happy ending.
Paul Connew is a media commentator, broadcaster and former editor of the Sunday Mirror