What does Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal reveal about his campaign?

Editor’s Note: The following is an occasional feature — reviews of books about business by people in business. Previous reviews have looked at negotiation, marketing and team-building. In this installment, public policy consultant Joy Howell reviews Donald Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” with an eye toward how the book reveals insights into the billionaire GOP candidate’s campaign.

April 7, 2016

What can be learned from The Art of the Deal about Donald Trump’s skill sets and which are applicable to the job of president? Is Trump merely the latest businessman to assume that because he has been successful in private sector business ventures, he has the skills to succeed in the top public sector job?

Trump details “the elements of the deal” as follows: Think Big. Protect the Downside and the Upside Will Take Care of Itself. Maximize Your Options. Know Your Market. Use Your Leverage. Enhance Your Location. Get the Word Out. Fight Back. Deliver the Goods. Contain the Costs. Have Fun.

Certainly voters can see those principles in action in his presidential campaign. Trump’s self-marketing is bold and controversial. “The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies … That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts,” he states in the book. (Certainly “Make America Great Again” is evidence of this.)

The book has numerous examples of Trump building the biggest and the best wherever he goes, with any failures minimized or cited as an eventual success. When he built Trump Tower, Trump tells in the book, a competing developer was building Museum Tower nearby, but Trump made the most of the strengths of Trump Tower in his marketing message. “From day one we set out to sell Trump Tower not just as a beautiful building in a great location but as an event … the hottest ticket in town. We were selling fantasy,” he said.

In an example of boldness turning failure into success, a nasty tenant backlash to his purchase of rent-controlled 100 Central Park South delayed his plans, so he went “one door up the street” and developed the old Barbizon Hotel into Trump Parc. The delay resulted in even greater profits due to rising Manhattan real estate values.

One of the most interesting skills he touts in Art of the Deal is his self-avowed research prowess. Trump claims to be his own best researcher, asking his own questions and going to the best sources to educate himself on a subject.

When he wanted to rebuild the Wollman Ice Rink for New York citizens, he admittedly had no experience. He went to a Canadian rink builder, since “ice skating is to Canadians what baseball is to Americans — the national pastime.” He cited his success in bringing the project in on time and under budget, as he viewed the operating rink firsthand from his living room in Trump Tower.

The book provides numerous examples of bold gambles that paid off, perseverance that resulted in favorable deals, and shrewd knowledge of human nature and how to leverage it to advantage. There is no question Trump is adroit at identifying opportunities and exploiting them.

At the same time, The Art of the Deal was written nearly three decades ago, and there is no evidence that, in the interim, Trump has gained any understanding of the differences between the private and public sectors and the constraints on the latter. The book’s examples of private sector boldness stand in sharp contrast to constraints on a president due to separation and balance of powers, interest groups that often determine outcomes and laws that demand transparency and accountability for all public servants.

Trump includes a story from his childhood that is also instructive: “Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid. In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye — I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled,” he reminisced. Trump’s father later sent him to military school, where although he wasn’t thrilled, he “learned … about channeling my aggression into achievement.”

While The Art of the Deal provides real insight into Trump’s prodigious deal-making skills, readers will no doubt be pondering whether these successful private sector qualities translate well (or at all) to the job of president. Only voters can decide if they are willing to risk the potentially negative outcomes of bold moves gone awry should desperately needed skill sets continue to elude him — if so his learning curve may come at a steep price for the nation.

Delray Beach resident Joy Howell is the founder of Cambridge Strategic Partners, a Washington D.C.-South Florida strategic communications firm.


About the reviewer
Joy Howell is the founder of Cambridge Strategic Partners, a Washington D.C.-South Florida strategic communications firm. She is a resident of Delray Beach. Howell served as a communications director for the Al Gore-Joe Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000 and has consulted for a variety of business and consumer groups on public policy issues before Congress. She holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard and an Master of Business Administration from the University of Redlands, Redlands, Calif.

Howell, Joy. “What Does Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal Tell about His Campaign?” What Does Donald Trump’s Art of the Deal Tell about His Campaign? N.p., 5 Apr. 2016. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.