President Trump, as everybody knows, fancies himself a master dealmaker. But so far, Trump has mostly dismantled deals made by others, while clinching hardly any deals of his own.
Trump just pulled the United States out of the deal President Obama made in 2015 to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He has also pulled the United States out of the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accord, both of which are now in effect without the United States.
Trump is undoing an agreement the Obama administration made with automakers to set fuel-economy standards through 2025. Last year, he rescinded Obama’s deferred-action program for so-called “dreamers” who were brought to the United States illegally as children. And he killed a few features of the Affordable Care Act, while failing to repeal the law in full, as he promised to do while campaigning.
While Trump seems particularly hostile to Obama deals, he’s also undoing a trade regime established by predecessors of both parties. He has imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, including, possibly, those from friendly nations. He has laid additional tariffs on some Chinese imports and threatened to expand the levies to a much broader set of Chinese goods. He’s also revamping the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he says he’ll also pull out of if he doesn’t get his way.
So what deals has Trump closed? He managed to pass sizable tax cuts, especially for businesses. And he modified a trade deal with South Korea. That’s about it.
Other deals are a work in progress. Trump’s upcoming meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un might lead to new limits on North Korea’s nuclear program, which would be a bona fide accomplishment. But unlike Iran, North Korea already has nuclear weapons, and most experts think there’s little chance the rogue nation will give up its only real source of leverage with the rest of the world. Trump may end up with little to show for his outreach to North Korea, besides empty promises from a crafty dictator.
Trump apparently wants another deal with Iran—one that would go further than Obama’s deal, by limiting Iran’s long-range missile program and support for terrorism, in addition to its nuclear program. Yet the United States is now the odd man out, with [former?] allies such as France and Germany saying they’re not interested in Trump’s approach. It’s not clear how Trump could assert the additional leverage needed to get a new deal that’s even tougher on Iran, with none of the allies Obama had backing him up.
Trump also says he favors bilateral, nation-to-nation trade deals, rather than multiparty arrangements like NAFTA and TPP. Yet he hasn’t inked any new deals, so far, or even initiated negotiations. Maybe that’s because his top trade negotiators, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, have been too busy scrapping prior agreements.
To be fair to Trump, trade and diplomatic negotiations are typically lengthy and complex, and it often takes years to get to the finish line. If you believe the various Obama deals were bad for the United States, then it would be logical to first dismantle the broken structure, before reassembling the pieces in a more constructive way.
But it’s also far easier to destroy than to build, and so far, Trump has been taking the easy way out by undoing the prior guy’s work. “You can’t con people, at least not for long,” Trump wrote in his 1987 bestseller, “The Art of the Deal.” “You can create excitement, you can do wonderful promotion and get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little hyperbole. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually catch on.” Time for Trump to follow his own advice.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman