As a businessman, Donald Trump ran casino companies that spiraled into bankruptcy four different times. Yet he persuaded voters in 2016 that he’s a savvy businessman who would run the government with a new kind of efficiency.
He hasn’t. The carnival barker in Trump is omnipresent: Everything he touches is always going great, while his critics and opponents are indolent and stupid. But in terms of results, Trump is running the government like a misfit CEO who can’t explain why losses keep mounting and the stock keeps tanking. Under his watch, Uncle Sam is starting to look like General Electric.
Trump is now presiding over a needless government shutdown because Congressional Democrats refuse to appropriate funding for his beloved border wall. You can’t run any kind of business this way—by bringing the whole house down unless you get everything you want—but Trump seems to think voters want stubborn, absolutist leadership. They don’t, and Trump is excruciatingly slow to learn that nobody in Washington wins from a shutdown, except whoever gets the least blame.
As president, Trump has shown other signs that he’s poorly equipped to run a large organization:
He hires terrible people who don’t last. In less than two years, four Trump Cabinet secretaries have left because of ethical violations, and roughly 170 other senior officials have quit or been fired. The turnover rate in Trump’s White House is far higher than for any predecessor, and many key jobs remain unfilled. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to a felony and may be headed to prison. His former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is assuredly headed to prison, as is his former corporate lawyer, Michael Cohen. This is an astonishingly bad record of personnel management.
Effective organizations require competent and talented leaders working toward common goals, with minimal turnover. The Trump administration is a chaos machine increasingly run by B-listers and sycophants fighting turf battles with each other. If this is how Trump ran his companies, it’s little wonder they’d founder when faced with challenges.
He has no regard for consequences. Trump doesn’t care if 800,000 federal workers are going without a paycheck, and thousands of businesses are losing money because of his shutdown. He tells farmers losing access to foreign markets and manufacturers struggling to pay the higher cost of new tariffs that trade wars are in their interest, with no regard for their their growing losses. He dismisses urgent climate warnings published by experts in his own administration. And Trump’s tax cuts are pushing the annual deficit to $1 trillion and beyond, further burdening future generations. This sounds exactly like the guy who borrowed recklessly until his casinos couldn’t make the payments, always sacrificing future stability for a splurge today.
He’s a weak negotiator. Art of the deal? More like foot-stomp and squeal. If Trump were a shrewd dealmaker, he’d find ways to get what he wants on the wall while giving Democrats a way to say they won, too. Successful deals normally involve each side getting something they want and each side giving up something they want. But Trump is just making demands and fulminating when they’re not met.
He has made no deal on North Korea, despite claiming otherwise, with the rogue regime continuing to build nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. He’s withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria—a move Russia gleefully welcomes—without asking Russia for any concessions in exchange. He kicked off trade negotiations with China last year by imposing tariffs on Chinese imports—which are paid by Americans. And he’s threatening more tariffs, which is like saying, if you don’t give us what we want, we’ll hurt ourselves even more.
Trump is a billionaire, so it’s fair for his supporters to say he must be doing something right. And even critics ought to acknowledge that Trump has a sorcerer’s mastery of the dark art of self-promotion.
But for decades, Trump’s businesses also got significant hidden funding from his father, Fred Trump, as The New York Times revealed last year. And a spate of ongoing investigations may show that Trump has received unconventional and perhaps illegal aid from Russian sources or other unsavories. Fred Trump is no longer around, and his son Donald can no longer hide behind the opaque financials of a privately owned operation. He’s America’s CEO now, and the shareholders ought to be restless.
Rick Newman is the author of four books, including “Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success.” Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman