Trump Takes His Brash, Bare-Knuckle Negotiating Style to Capitol Hill

Trump Takes His Brash, Bare-Knuckle Negotiating Style to Capitol Hill

© Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

However the wild Obamacare-replacement cliff-hanger turns out, rookie President Donald Trump has made clear that -- as in so many other ways -- he will not follow convention when it comes to twisting arms on Capitol Hill.

Promising, flattering, massaging, cajoling, threatening – they were all tools of past presidents when it came time to squeezing a yea or nay out of recalcitrant lawmakers.

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Frank Underwood, the fictional president played by Kevin Spacey in the Netflix series House of Cards, makes a career of finding and exploiting the weaknesses of his flawed political bedfellows and opponents to get what he wants.

In the real world, perhaps no president in the past 50 years could lean on (often literally) a congressman or senator and exert the power of persuasion as forcefully as Lyndon Johnson. He learned those skills on the Hill as Robert Caro richly details in the third volume of his award-winning LBJ biography, Lyndon Johnson: Master of the Senate.

As Caro’s website says, Johnson “manipulated the Senate’s hallowed rules and customs and the weaknesses and strengths of his colleagues to change the ‘unchangeable’ Senate from a loose confederation of sovereign senators to a whirring legislative machine under his own iron-fisted control.”

Trump is not a creature of Washington and probably never will be. He trained at the right hand of his father, New York developer Fred Trump, and wound up sparring for decades in the Gleason’s Gym of bare-knuckle, in-your-face negotiating: the Manhattan real estate market.

Related: Like LBJ, Trump Is Loving the Role of America’s Dealmaker

Trump’s best-seller The Art of the Deal may have been mostly dreamed up and written by co-author Tony Schwartz, but the President’s whole brash, loose-with-the-truth, promise-‘em-anything persona was forged in a cutthroat world where raising a middle finger and walking away from the table is not just a threat.

The President’s trip to the Hill this week and subsequent meeting with holdouts from the House’s Freedom Caucus may not lead to the repeal and replacement of Obamacare that he endlessly promised his supporters on the campaign trail.

By rolling the dice and demanding a vote on what looks like a seriously flawed health care bill even though there was no assurance of passage, Trump did demonstrate to Washington politicians -- and especially Tea Party-type ideologues -- that they are looking at four years of dealing with a leader in the White House whose only philosophy is winning. And if it means abandoning a key component of his rise to power, he can live with that.

As New Yorkers like to say, “F--- ‘em if they can’t deal with it.”