TOKYO — If Donald Trump was hoping to use the negotiating skills honed during decades in business to strike a bargain with Kim Jong Un, he’d better think again.
Dennis Rodman, the former basketball star who’s now on his fifth visit to Pyongyang, just presented a copy of “The Art of the Deal” to the North Korean leader. That means Kim — a man Trump has already called a “pretty smart cookie” — might be wise to Trump’s tactics if the two ever meet.
In the 1987 book, Trump lays out key principles to stick to during a negotiation — basically, the recipe to his success. These include mantras such as “think big” and “maximize your options.”
Rodman had hoped to see the 33-year-old North Korean leader — to whom he once sang “Happy Birthday” from the basketball court — during this latest visit to North Korea. That doesn’t appear to have happened yet.
Rodman has instead been seen visiting the birthplace of “eternal president” Kim Il Sung — a regular stop on the North Korea tourist trail — and with the women’s basketball team. On Thursday, he gave presents for Kim to North Korea’s minister of sports: two autographed basketball jerseys, soap sets, a mermaid jigsaw and two books — “Where's Waldo?” and “The Art of the Deal.”
The puzzle and the “Where's Waldo?” book are likely for Kim's daughter — Rodman held her when she was a baby during a previous visit. The Trump book was certainly for Kim himself.
This may be a cheeky gesture on Rodman’s part.
Trump and Rodman know each other — the former NBA player was on “Celebrity Apprentice” — and Kim hosted Rodman in North Korea several times in 2013 and 2014. Rodman has called Kim a “friend for life” and tweeted that Trump “has been a great friend for many years.”
That makes the NBA hall of famer a link between Kim and Trump — and has provoked speculation that Rodman has gone to North Korea as a kind of emissary for the president. The State Department has strongly denied that Rodman’s trip is anything other than a private one.
But still, questions linger about whether Trump, who celebrates being an unconventional president, might have asked the pierced bad boy of basketball to sound out the prospect for talks between the enemy countries.
Later on Thursday night, Rodman tweeted a video he had recorded before going to Pyongyang, presenting the trip as an effort to broker peace between the United States and North Korea.
“He's the only person on the planet that has the uniqueness, the unbelievable privilege of being friends with President Trump and Marshal Kim Jong Un,” Rodman's agent, Chris Volo, said on the video. “He's going to try to bring peace between both nations.”
Rodman added: “That's the main reason why we're going. We're trying to bring everything together. If not, at least we tried,” he said. “We're trying to open doors between both countries.”
So what might Kim Jong Un learn if he delves into Trump’s book, marketed as containing the former businessman’s “formulated time-tested guidelines for success”?
One principle: “Use your leverage.”
“The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it. That makes the other guy smell blood, and then you’re dead,” Trump says in the book.
So Kim should prepare for Trump to look completely uninterested in cutting a deal, perhaps signaling that by sending aircraft carriers to the Korean Peninsula or talking about military options.
Speaking of those aircraft carriers, Kim might discover in “The Art of the Deal” that Trump likes to deliberately do noisy things and generate the appearance of activity, as Josh Barro writes on the Business Insider website.
As proof, Barro cites a story from “The Art of the Deal” in which Trump was trying to persuade Holiday Inn to invest in the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino, his ill-fated complex in Atlantic City.
He describes getting bulldozers and dump trucks to get busy when the Holiday Inn representatives came by. “What the bulldozers and dump trucks did wasn’t important, I said, so long as they did a lot of it,” Trump writes.
Then there’s the use of exaggeration — a concept not unfamiliar to Kim Jong Un.
“People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do,” Trump writes (or rather, tells his ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz). “That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration, and a very effective form of promotion.”
Kim may already have the upper hand when it comes to bravado, though. After all, he is apparently supposed to have been able to drive a car when he was 3 years old and fire a gun a few years later. Among North Korea’s most recent claims: that it has developed the “perfect weapon system” and can strike New York City (home of Trump, coincidentally. Or not.)
On the press, Kim will discover that for Trump, the media can be helpful.
“I got a call from a reporter asking whether or not it was true that Prince Charles had purchased an apartment in Trump Tower,” he wrote in the book, adding that he refused to confirm or deny the story. “That was all the media needed.”
The media is always hungry for a good story, and “the more sensational the better,” Trump writes. “If you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”
Kim needs no instruction here. He’s the master of the outrageous — threatening to drop a hydrogen bomb on Manhattan, claiming to have climbed a snow-capped mountain in dress shoes — and has no problem getting media coverage.
And Kim already knows this Trumpian tenet on bad press: “From a pure business point of view, the benefits of being written about have far outweighed the drawbacks.”
In fact, if he reads “The Art of the Deal,” Kim Jong Un might just realize how much he and Trump have in common.
Trump writes about the influence of his father, Fred, a stern real estate developer whose business Trump inherited.
Kim goes one further. He inherited the family business — in his case, a war-shattered country started by his grandfather that was in urgent need of development — from his stern father.
Trump writes about the benefits of working with family. “There is nothing to compare with family if they happen to be competent, because you can trust family in a way you can never trust anyone else,” he writes.
Again, Kim is already a believer in this principle. Not only is he a third-generation leader, but his sister, Kim Yo Jong, runs the propaganda department and was seen organizing the huge military parade that took place in Pyongyang in April. (Not that family is the ultimate consideration for Kim. After all, he had both his uncle and his half brother killed.)
Leafing through the pages, Kim might find more that strikes a chord.
For one, he’ll hear all about Trump Tower in New York. Kim just presided over the opening of the new Ryomyong Street development in Pyongyang — complete with a 70-story tower, the highest in the country — that is his flagship construction project.
The “magnificent” Ryomyong Street “was built as an icon of modern street architecture and a fairyland representing the era of the Workers’ Party,” the state media declared on the day the street was opened in April.
And he’ll discover that Trump likes to put his name on things: steaks, vodka, limousines, universities, buildings.
Trump has met his match here. North Korea is unparalleled when it comes to putting the Kim family name on everything, from buildings to philosophies.
In fact, thinking about this, maybe it was a genius move for Rodman to give Kim a copy of the president’s book. They might just realize they can get along.