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Trump says he’s a great negotiator, but the evidence says otherwise

Don Moore, professor, Haas School of Business | July 26, 2016

Despite his lack of experience in elected office and unpresidential behavior on the campaign trail, Donald Trump’s polling strength persists on questions regarding the economy. As Hillary Clinton turns her attention to the general election, she will take aim at Trump’s economic agenda. But if history is any guide, attacking his policies will have limited impact. There is a more important issue she needs to tackle first.

Whenever Trump has shown ignorance or confusion on domestic or foreign policy issues, he has fallen back on the argument that, as a brilliant deal maker, he has what it takes to “make America great again.” He says he would do this by renegotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), relations with China, the Iran nuclear deal and partnerships with key allies such as NATO, Japan, and South Korea. If Clinton is to prevail against Trump’s perceived business qualifications, she’ll have to dismantle the painstakingly cultivated image of Trump as a great negotiator.

Donald TrumpThe two of us have studied negotiation for a combined 40 years, have taught tens of thousands of students and executives, and advised on countless corporate and government negotiations. Because we would welcome a great negotiator as president, we were keenly interested in examining the evidence of Trump’s alleged negotiation prowess. We evaluated his wealth, his deals, and his approach to negotiation. The evidence is damning.

Let’s start with his wealth. Trump boasts, “I have made myself very rich.” Credible objective sources estimate his net worth at between $2.9 and $4.5 billion. While wealth is a poor measure of deal-making skill (Bernie Madoff was richer than Trump), there is special reason to doubt that Trump’s wealth can be traced to negotiation ability. It’s been reported that if Trump had simply invested the fortune he received from his father in an S&P 500 index fund in 1982 and made no deals, he would have $8 billion now. In other words, Trump’s deal-making has actually cost him billions of dollars. The airline he bought in 1988 for roughly $365 million closed down in 1992. The football team he bought in 1984 ended with the demise of United States Football League just two years later. His hotels and casinos have struggled to make money, declaring bankruptcy four times.

Even on the campaign trail, we have seen obvious negotiation failures. By one estimate, the Trump campaign paid three times what the Sanders campaign did to run commercials during the same time slots on the same stations. Meanwhile, he has undermined numerous other deals. Both NBC and Univision declined to air Trump’s Miss USA pageant last year after he disparaged Mexican immigrants. Companies in the Arab world have severed ties with Trump after his comments about Muslims. At home, the list of U.S. companies that are severing ties with the Republican National Convention is getting longer.

Some might defend his impolitic behavior by arguing that he was astutely sacrificing profit in order to win votes, but that argument falls flat. Trump started offending people and losing deals well before he began his campaign for president. Consider what was supposed to have been his most important deal: developing Manhattan’s West Side Yards, then the largest undeveloped property in New York City. The negotiations with public, private, and regulatory stakeholders devolved into a public exchange of insults between Trump and then-New York Mayor Ed Koch. Trump was ultimately forced to sell to a group of Chinese financiers in a deal the New York Times described as “perhaps the closest that Mr. Trump has come to international diplomacy.” But the negotiation left Trump so angry at his Chinese partners, he later sued for $1 billion. The court ruled against him.

These failures and losses beg the question: What exactly is Trump’s approach to negotiation? His book, The Art of the Deal, contains many platitudes, but only one distinctive strategy: Fake it till you make it. Trump recounts a 1982 deal in which he was courting a skeptical investor. He told his construction manager to hire additional people and equipment to create the illusion of progress during the investor’s visit: “What the bulldozers and dump trucks did wasn’t important, I said, so long as they did a lot of it.” In Trump’s telling, the trick worked. And he has not stopped using it since.

Trump has now crafted his own neo-Orwellian approach to politics, combining shamelessly blatant contradiction with the allure of unapologetic self-confidence. In the short term, such bravado can help leaders gain support, as we have witnessed in Trump’s ascendancy during the primaries. But that support withers when the veneer of self-assurance slips to reveal reckless overconfidence and a lack of substance. Recently, the ghost writer of The Art of the Deal, Tony Schwartz, revealed that the bulldozer scam did not even actually occur as Trump claimed.

If he somehow manages to prevail in November, Trump will not be the first charlatan or confidence man to have profited from the long con. The art of illusion he knows well. The art of the deal he does not.

 

Originally published at http://fortune.com/2016/07/19/donald-trump-negotiating-the-art-of-the-deal/ 

Deepak Malhotra is the Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, and author of Negotiating the Impossible. Don Moore is the Lorraine Tyson Mitchell Professor of Leadership & Communication at the Haas School of Business.

 

Comments to “Trump says he’s a great negotiator, but the evidence says otherwise

  1. My students did another calculation.
    This time my students did a scenario using Donald Trump’s father, Fred Trump’s estate. Fred Trump’s entire estate would have generated $4.1 billion. Donald Trump’s share would have been a fraction of the $4.1 billion.

    Fred Trump’s Gross Estate $500,000,000.00
    Less: Estate Tax
    Federal = 65% (1) ($325,000,000.00)
    New York State = 16% (2) ($80,000,000.00)
    Net Estate (3) $95,000,000.00
    Total S&P Return (Unadjusted for inflation) (4) 4342.29%
    Total S&P Return Dollars (5) $4,125,171,700.00

    (1) Federal Estate and Gift Tax Rates
    http://taxfoundation.org/article/federal-estate-and-gift-tax-rates-exemptions-and-exclusions-1916-2014
    (2) New York Estate Tax Rates
    https://ballotpedia.org/Estate_and_inheritance_taxes
    (3) Left to wife, four surviving children, and children of Fred C. Trump Jr who had passed away
    (4) S&P 500 Return Calculator with Dividend Reinvestment
    https://dqydj.com/sp-500-return-calculator/
    (5) Excludes Federal Tax and New York Tax on Income From Investments (1982-Present).

  2. I agree with you that Trump is by all indications a used car salesman, but enough with the “He would’ve made more had he simply invested in an index fund”. Yeah? Well guess what, he would’ve made TONS more if he had just invested that money in Apple and Microsoft -Hindsight is 20/20, and besides, it’s not the same to just invest in an index fund as it is to actually build a physical business with hundreds of employees. If he HAD gone the index-fund route, you libs would be giving him crap about how he never actually built anything real and how he was just one of these greedy Wall St guys investing in virtual money.

    Also, he didn’t insult “Mexican immmigrants” -he insulted a subset of people immigrating through Mexico (those who come in illegally) and out of that subset, he insulted those who are criminals. If the shoe doesn’t fit, then don’t wear it.

  3. Did you or one of your teaching assistants write this? Say It Ain’t So!

    I teach Finance at a Community College. Students in my Introduction To Finance course questioned : “It’s been reported that if Trump had simply invested the fortune he received from his father in an S&P 500 index fund in 1982 and made no deals, he would have $8 billion now.”

    My students used this source for their calculations: “S&P 500 Return Calculator with Dividend Reinvestment”
    https://dqydj.com/sp-500-return-calculator/

    Gross Inheritance $100,000,000.00 (Excludes Inheritance Tax and Tax on Capital Gains)
    Total S&P Return 4342.29% (Unadjusted for inflation)
    Total $4,342,286,000.00

    Gross Inheritance $100,000,000.00 (Excludes Inheritance Tax)
    Total S&P Return 1697.44% (Adjusted for inflation (CPI))
    Total $1,697,436,000.00

    Analysis of Donald Trump’s Net Worth vs. Investing In The S&P 500
    https://dqydj.com/donald-trump-beat-sp-500-index-funds/

  4. WoW Great information has been shared. I would like to share it with others and I have found a lot of informative stuff in your article. Thanks for sharing this..

  5. So, show me the evidence, “Trump says he’s a great negotiator, but the evidence says otherwise.”

    Show me the sources mentioned in:

    “Credible objective sources estimate his net worth at between $2.9 and $4.1 billion. “

    “It’s been reported that if Trump had simply invested the fortune he received from his father in an S&P 500 index fund in 1982 and made no deals, he would have $8 billion now.”

    • Thanks so much for inviting me to include the sources on the claims I make in this post. I have revised the post to add links to those other sources (Bloomberg, Forbes, and National Journal, respectively).

  6. Why are you comparing Donald Trump with convicted felon Bernie Madoff? A better comparison would be with Mitt Romney.

    Show me the SOURCES for your statement: “Credible objective sources estimate his net worth at between $2.9 and $4.1 billion. “

    Show me the CALCULATIONS for your statement: “It’s been reported that if Trump had simply invested the fortune he received from his father in an S&P 500 index fund in 1982 and made no deals, he would have $8 billion now.”

    • I appreciate the encouragement to cite my sources. I have revised the post appropriately. I also acknowledge that there is ambiguity about how exactly to estimate Trump’s net worth, which is why we cite multiple sources.

  7. Trump University screwed how many young people with inferior curricula after enticing them to pay tuition?
    Trump screwed how many small contractors by bullying and renegotiating after they did the work?
    Trump screwing these “little people” might be the only business issue with an emotional dimension that would resonate with voters.

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