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Art of the Crazy: Trump’s Insane Twitter Negotiations

About last night’s eruption of more than 40 drug-induced tweets and retweets.
October 7, 2020
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(Illustration by Hannah Yoest / Shutterstock)

When I look at President Trump’s Twitter-centric negotiation over the possibility of a second COVID-19 stimulus package in the past 24 hours, I just gotta say, I think he might be fouling this up.

I know, I know.

He is the Great Negotiator. He “wrote” a whole book on the subject, you may have heard of it.

And here I am, a liberal arts major. A person who did not not go to Wharton Business School while pretending that I did. I’m no businessman (I don’t “Think Big” enough). I am merely a humble writer-at-large for a niche political webmagazine who is poor to quite poor at salary negotiations.

So I freely admit that maybe there is a method to the madness that I do not understand, having neither been versed in Jack Welch’s Six Sigma nor spun the wheel of domination.

But speaking as a novice, this stimulus negotiation looks like an epic self-own on par with bankrupting a casino or selling steaks in a home electronics store. For those who aren’t juiced up on steroids or slamming dexamethasone, it might be hard to keep up, so let’s look at how Tuesday’s absolutely bonkers self-negotiations played out on our nation’s premiere microblogging platform.

For the last few months, Democrats and Republicans have been—slowly, distractedly—fighting over the details of a supplemental COVID stimulus package that would address the severe economic hardships brought upon many families and businesses by the pandemic. On Tuesday, the president, who had been largely absent from these discussions previously, crashed through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man in an attempt to demonstrate his mediation prowess.

First, around 2:30 p.m., he executed one of his patented gambits straight out of Art of the Deal:

The “economic populist” timed this power move on the heels of a conversation with Austerity-for-Thee Cocaine Mitch, blindsiding his own advisers (element of surprise!) in a series of tweets announcing that he will end negotiations on the stimulus package until after the election. As part of the tweetstorm, he also kindly ensured that people are aware that Nancy Pelosi wanted to pass a munificent $2.4 trillion in aid for people still struggling through a once-in-a-century pandemic.

Here—within half an hour after his tweeting began—is how the stock market responded to his announcement:

So, as an opening bid, it left a little bit to be desired, I would say. Jonathan Chait, another non-businessman mind you, called it “the worst political blunder in history.” A tad dramatic maybe, but not a great sign.

Regardless, it seemed like the dire reaction in the markets left Trump in a bad negotiating position vis-à-vis Speaker Pelosi—and she agreed, firing off a single tweet about how the president’s ploy exposed his heartlessness.

This sense was confirmed five hours later when the president took a new/old tack, recanting his earlier contention that Pelosi’s offer was overly generous and adding a dollop of his trademark schoolyard misogyny:

With balance restored to the negotiating table, you might think he would wait to see how Pelosi would respond.

Not this president.

No he needed to further demonstrate his position as the alpha.

So in between IVs, presumably during commercial breaks from the shows, possibly wearing his preferred nightgown, he began to unleash a torrent of tweets negotiating against himself like a person suffering from a bout of psychosis due to a corticosteroid therapy.

First he did a complete 180 on his earlier position that Congress should pass no stimulus legislation, retweeting a news story about the Federal Reserve chair that implied Congress should spend even more!

Then he retweeted the esteemed Paul Sperry of Investor’s Business Daily—not once, not twice, but twenty-two separate times—on matters ranging from #Obamagate to the “disgraceful” moderator of the debate that Trump totally won to a not-all-that-veiled attack on Joe Biden for being concerned about health care when his wife and child died in a tragic car accident.

Trump followed that up with eight retweets of Fox News analyst Gregg Jarrett, calling for the jailing of his former opponent Hillary Clinton and disparaging Speaker Pelosi’s looks.

He then tweeted a meme depicting the late Chris Farley—in character as the thrice-divorced homeless motivational speaker Matt Foley from the classic SNL sketch—berating Attorney General Bill Barr for not arresting enough political opponents.

It’s unclear to me if any of these missives were part of the gamesmanship of the ongoing negotiations but I wanted to make sure that everyone had a clear picture of the state of play.

Around 10 p.m., on day five (we think) of the experimental drug regimen he is taking for combating the coronavirus, the president then launched back into the stimulus negotiations that at this stage are taking place only between himself and his earlier tweets.

No longer wanting to walk away completely, the president demanded that Congress pass two pieces of standalone legislation, the first bailing out the airline industry, the second sending a round of $1,200 stimulus checks out to our “great people.”

In the final tweet at the time of writing, he tagged Nancy Pelosi—whose visage he had insulted hours earlier and who has been silent as he dickered for hours—presumably in an attempt to reopen the line of communication with his counterparty.

Whew.

Given that I have never been “in a boardroom” for a high-stakes parley like this and that I cannot take the full measure of Donald Trump since he spent the day hiding from the cameras as the novel coronavirus infection consumed him, I can only turn to a celebrity negotiator for his expert analysis on what transpired:

“The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead.” —Donald J. Trump.

Hard to argue with that.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark's writer-at-large and a communications consultant. He previously served as senior advisor to the anti-Trump Our Principles PAC, communications director for Jeb Bush, and spokesman for the Republican National Committee.