Trump should watch The West Wing for pro tips

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Steve Benen, of the Rachel Maddow Show, notes,

Trump keeps bluffing badly and for no reason

In poker, bluffing is an important strategic move. If you’re playing a bad hand, for example, you can keep upping the ante in the hopes of convincing the other players that you actually have a good hand, persuading them to fold. The risk, of course, is that your rivals will see through your bluff, at which point you’ll

lose even more of your money.

I’m starting to think Donald Trump doesn’t understand the point of bluffing – because like his routine lying, the president seems to do it for no good reason.

On Wednesday, Trump endorsed a massive government spending bill, and on Thursday, the White House and its allies spent much of the day telling everyone how much the president is looking forward to signing the omnibus package into law. This morning, however, Trump, for reasons that are not yet clear, threatened to veto the proposal he ostensibly supports because it lacks immigration provisions he claims to support.

In response, lawmakers didn’t bother to offer Trump anything – at which point he signed it anyway.

And after signing the bill, Trump said that he would never sign a bill like that one again. Before he signs another bill, he said, the Senate has to get rid of the filibusterer, the thing where you need 60 votes. They’ve got to get rid of that thing. (He is confused, but never mind.)

Anyway, my advice to Donald Trump is to watch The West Wing for tips on how to be President. It happens I just watched Privateers (Episode 4:18) pursuant to listening to The West Wing Weekly Podcast episode on that episode, and it had bluffing as a major theme. Amy was just hired to be the First Lady’s chief of staff, and Abby is trying to get a bone-headed gag rule provision off the Foreign Ops bill, suggesting that President Bartlett … well, bluff. Here’s how it goes (Transcript from HERE):

AMY: The President should make it clear he’ll veto Foreign Ops with the gag amendment.

JOSH: He should veto his own bill?

AMY: No he should threaten to veto.

JOSH: If he does then he has to veto.

AMY: I’m saying with the threat maybe the more moderate Senators will insist the attachment be taken off.

JOSH: Yeah, but if Amy’s plan of magic and wonder doesn’t he’s got to veto Foreign Ops after not one, two, but three continuing resolutions. We need a win and 230 million people overseas need a sandwich so he can’t veto Foreign Ops. Donna!


AMY: Threaten to veto.

JOSH: He’s not going to threaten to veto–

AMY: Not the President, the staff. The staff writes an SAP which is public, it might get enough moderate republicans–

JOSH: First of all, I don’t think it will.

AMY: It might.

JOSH: But if it doesn’t?

AMY: If it doesn’t, then he signs it.

JOSH: Then we look like a bunch of empty shirts.

AMY: Who?

JOSH: The Senior Staff.

AMY: That’s vanity.

JOSH: No, it is not. I am at my most effective for this country when lawmakers
are under the impression that I have influence with the President, so is Leo, and so is Toby, so is
C.J., so is the Vice President. We’re not giving back Roe. We’re going to swallow it on
Foreign Ops, that is all. It’s a good package, and I’m celebrating tonight.


ABBEY: And not even, we were talking about the threat of a veto, we were talking about an SAP.

AMY: But those policy recommendations are published by the OMB which means there’d
be a record of the President ignoring…

ABBEY: I don’t care.

AMY: It makes it look like they don’t have their act together.

You see? You can’t really bluff. So, why does Trump bluff all the time?

I’ve noted this before and suggested it would be a problem with the then seminal Trump administration. (A little too seminal, as it would turn out, what with all the affairs and such. But I digress.) In the development business, it is pretty common for deals to get pretty far along in the discussion phase prior to being scrapped, with people even signing some agreements and hiring consultants, surveyors, engineers, etc. to do some preliminary research. When all the parts don’t come together, and this can include prospective partners or sellers of key real estate getting greedy or getting strange, you just walk away from the deal.

We now know a LOT about Trump’s prior real estate false starts. (I’m learning a lot about that in Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump) It seems like for every deal he pulled off there were at least a dozen that failed. That may be a relatively high failure rate, but the truth is that in that business, deals get cut down all the time. See: Trump’s Take It Or Leave It Approach Makes Sense

In the development world, people expect people to perambulate away from deals. This is very different in legislative or foreign policy, where you don’t ante up until you have a good hand, and then you play it to the hilt, stressing all the metaphors to the breaking point if necessary.

It isn’t just that Trump is bad at bluffing. Truth is, a proper president does not bluff.

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