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Opinion So Trump finally met Putin. When do we see the great deal he promised us?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump on July 7. (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

Try to imagine what today’s meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin felt like from Putin’s point of view:

  • Putin waged a campaign to destabilize and delegitimize the U.S. election process, and as late of yesterday, President Trump was casting doubt on whether Russia was really behind it.
  • Trump is trying to roll back even the modest moves the Obama administration made to punish Russia for its meddling.
  • Last week Putin read that Trump had ordered his aides to come up with “deliverables” they could offer, in exchange for…well, in exchange for nothing, really, because there isn’t much Russia has to offer the United States.
  • While senior aides wanted to have the White House’s top Russia expert (and a Putin biographer) in the meeting, Trump apparently insisted that only he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attend.
  • And this longtime Putin fanboy doesn’t even have the guts to bring up Russia’s attack on the United States, even as they prepare to make a new round of assaults on the 2018 election and may even be hacking U.S. nuclear plants.

It must feel pretty good to be Putin right now. Here’s what happened today in Hamburg:

President Trump began his highly anticipated meeting Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the man believed to have ordered a campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election. It is Trump’s first face-to-face talk with the Russian leader.
The world was watching closely as the two met on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit. It comes at a time of growing tensions over the increasingly assertive U.S. military role in Syria and ongoing concerns over Russian backing for rebels in Ukraine and increasing friction between the Kremlin and NATO.
But the mood was genial as Putin and Trump, sitting side by side, addressed reporters before the meeting.
“We’ve had some very very good talks. We’re going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue,” Trump said. “We look forward to a lot of very positive happenings for Russia and for the United States and for everyone concerned.”

It’s a little unclear what those “very positive happenings” will be, but given everything that has happened over the last six months, it’s clear that Trump was overmatched coming into this meeting — not because Putin is such a master manipulator, but because Trump is such an awful deal-maker.

That might seem like a strange thing to say, given that Trump “wrote” a book called “The Art of the Deal,” and talks constantly about what a spectacular deal-maker he is and what great deals he’ll make for America. But ask yourself this: What deals has Trump made since taking office? Do any come to mind?

Let’s consider the following:

  • While Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accords and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the rest of the world has decided to go ahead and create a new diplomatic and trade order in which U.S. leadership is assumed to no longer exist. As the New York Times reports today, “Major economies show no inclination to accept American designs on trade — an attitude on display on Thursday as the European Union and Japan agreed to the broad outlines of a free trade deal before a summit meeting of world leaders. If completed, the deal would further the exchange of goods and services between their two markets while, in relative terms, diminishing opportunities for American companies.”
  • Even today, Trump continues to claim that we’ll build a wall on our southern border and Mexico will pay for it, which no one believes and only makes him look like a fool.
  • After a triumphant visit to Saudi Arabia in which the president laid his hands upon a glowing orb and (I presume) shared gold-leaf decorating tips with his hosts, Trump triumphantly declared that he had signed “deals” for the Saudis to buy $110 billion of U.S. armaments. But the deals turned out to imaginary. As a defense analyst wrote soon after, “I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday.”
  • In the debate over health care, Trump has been more an impediment than a dealmaker in getting Republicans to agree on a plan. He held a celebratory Rose Garden ceremony when the House passed its version, which was so atrocious that Republican senators immediately said they wouldn’t consider it. The GOP Senate leadership is struggling to assemble 50 votes for their version, and because of Trump’s substantive ignorance and misguided political strategy, they don’t even want his help trying to get the bill passed. Meanwhile, the Republican plan is literally the most unpopular piece of legislation in recorded history.
  • Remember what a huge story it was when Trump negotiated a deal with Carrier to keep 1,100 jobs in Indiana, which required the state’s taxpayers to fork over a bunch of incentives? The company announced in May that it’s sending 632 jobs from Indiana to Mexico.
  • Trump claims that his personal intervention saved hundreds of millions of dollars in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, but in truth, those cost savings had been negotiated before he ever got involved; his meeting with Lockheed Martin at which the alleged “deal” was struck was just theater.

So I ask again: What deals has Trump made since he became president? Are there any? Even if you’re a conservative and you like the policy decisions his administration has made, can you say that his supposedly superhuman deal-making acumen has produced anything of value?

When he walked into the room with Vladimir Putin, Trump came as someone who has been a public apologist for Russian meddling in American politics, who seemed to want desperately to curry favor with his counterpart, and who couldn’t say what he hoped Putin would offer the United States. Even a genuinely skilled deal-maker would have had trouble turning that situation to his advantage.

In fairness, no one really expected this first meeting to produce any substantive agreement. But Trump hasn’t given us much reason to think one will be forthcoming later, or that if there is some kind of an agreement, it will work to the benefit of the United States.

If there is one principle that has guided Donald Trump’s career and worldview, it’s that either you’re the dominator or the dominated, the winner or the loser, the con man or the sucker. If you aren’t one, then you’re the other. Guess who’s who in this relationship.