August 5th, 2017

What do the transcripts show us about Trump’s negotiating skills?

Ann Althouse performed a task that very few people have taken on: she actually read the WaPo transcript of Trump’s call with Peña Nieto and closely analyzed it. What she found may surprise you, but it dovetails with my own impression from my own admittedly not-so-close reading.

The original reaction to the transcripts in the MSM and by Democrats and other Trump-opponents was generally that they revealed him to be stupid and/or clumsy and/or hypocritical. That’s what those readers were looking for, so of course they found it—mainly by fastening on isolated statements of Trump’s such as New Hampshire being a “drug-infested den” (I wrote yesterday about how that statement of Trump’s was true, if not literally, then basically).

Take a look for yourself at Althouse’s close reading of the talk between the two presidents. Here are her final remarks on the subject:

Now, what if anything is there in all of that to use against Trump? Really, the only thing is that he cares about his personal political success and doesn’t mind referring to it directly, even when the other guy insists that it’s all only about the public good. There’s nothing in there about Trump perhaps not really wanting to build a physical wall. He seems dedicated to that. You can’t see him conceding that Mexico won’t pay for the wall. What you see is some complicated, political structuring of a way to get the wall paid for that will probably satisfy the people who heard that promise and wanted it kept. But what can his antagonists grab onto? They can’t very well oppose crushing the drug gangs or better trade deals. So it’s no wonder they went big with Oh! He insulted New Hampshire! And that’s it for the transcripts. Don’t encourage people to actually read them. They might think Trump did just fine.

Indeed, that was my impression, too. Hey, let’s natter on about the nasty thing Trump said about New Hampshire—even though prior to this lots of us were talking about New Hampshire’s enormous opiate problem! Hey, stupidhead Trump doesn’t even know he lost New Hampshire (even though—shhhh!!—what he may have meant or even probably meant was that he won the New Hampshire primary, which he did)!

That’s the way the MSM operates, that’s what most people read, and that’s what many of them remember.

This time, however, I’m not so sure. As I also wrote yesterday, there’s been a lot of criticism of the MSM for publishing the transcripts, even from some normally anti-Trump sources. It’s fairly clear that the WaPo did it solely in an attempt to hurt Trump. There was absolutely no overriding reason the American people needed to know anything revealed in there. There was no smoking gun and really nothing much of note. So the WaPo’s Trump-destructive motives seem unusually transparent. Is it the old “give them enough rope” principle in action?

19 Responses to “What do the transcripts show us about Trump’s negotiating skills?”

  1. Ray Says:

    The NYT and WaPo are dying and I wish they would hurry up. This looks like desperation. Anything to attract readers.

  2. Cornhead Says:

    I can’t recall another modern President (other than Nixon) where his transcribed private conversations were leaked.

  3. neo-neocon Says:


    The Nixon tapes’ content was not leaked.

    The content was released after being subpoenaed:

    See this:

    In late July 1974, the White House released the subpoenaed tapes. One of those tapes was the so-called “smoking gun” tape, from June 23, 1972, six days after the Watergate break-in.

    Then in 2013, other content was published, but that was about forty years after the fact.

    I believe that the publication of the Trump transcripts by the WaPo is truly unprecedented. And for what? Nothing, except an attempt to embarrass him.

  4. Cornhead Says:


    I stand corrected. My point was that the public has only seen transcripts one other time.

    I think Trump comes across very well in the transcript. He is no dummy despite his breezy way of speaking. To me the big point here is how the press focuses on that tiny point about NH and blows it up to somehow make Trump look bad when, in fact, he is correct about the terrible drug problem in NH. Another reason why we hate the press. The press, of course, just amplifies the words of the Dem party. The Twitter feed of the NH Dem party is a perfect example.

  5. Big Maq Says:

    There are several serious problems with leaks of this type, one biggie of which is who the h*ll, among foreign leaders, is going to want to have a call with trump?

    It is bad enough all that trump tweets, and (inadvertently?) spills out, for all to see, including our adversaries overseas.

    This specific leak may not directly affect our national security, but trump and those foreign leaders DO need to be able to have frank, private conversations, and trust that they are private.

    This erodes that confidence and ability to be open, which might prove vital at some future point.

    That said, it can, indeed, be revealing about trump, but maybe not as hyped up as some in the msm are making it to be.

    A lot can be made from the transcript, but lots can also be left out and leave open for interpretation, as it doesn’t capture voice, tone, timing, etc.

    Simple example, using the exact same words to convey different meaning…

    The impact may well be subdued (or as Althouse is asking, why is there so little talk about it?), perhaps because it is something of a retread story, or simply because there has been so much from and about trump already that every new revelation is quickly bypassed by something else, or because we are all becoming inured to it, as it is something of a cacophony effect, it all becomes just noise – what used to shock, what used to be incredible, is now part of the overwhelming “normal”.

  6. Jim Miller Says:

    If the transcripts show Trump in a good light — as Althouse seems to believe — maybe Trump had them leaked.

    That kind of thing does happen from time to time, you know.

    Under almost every president.

    (Is Althouse right? I don’t know; I haven’t read the transcripts myself. But she does appear to have a soft spot in her heart for the Donald, so I treat her posts on him with extra skepticism.)

  7. neo-neocon Says:

    Jim Miller:

    Well, I don’t think I can be accused of having a soft spot in my heart about Trump, and when I looked at the transcripts I thought he came off better than I expected in them. A lot better, actually.

    And yes, he might have released them, but I very much doubt it. Just a gut feeling. One reason is that I think that he is cognizant of the negative national security implications and wouldn’t release them for that reason alone, if for no other.

    And of course, even if he had released them that wouldn’t absolve the WaPo of being judged for its stupid and destructive decision to publish them. But I very much doubt he released them.

  8. Griffin Says:

    Of course if trump or someone acting on his behalf had leaked these transcripts then of course they would have came right out and said who the leaker was and painted Trump as not caring about national security and how he can’t be trusted and blah, blah, blah…

    You can bet your life that the media’s love of protecting their sources would be sold out in a heartbeat if they thought it could help them in their hysterical quest to get Trump.

  9. Jim Miller Says:

    A famous WW II example showing the difficult problem of punishing leaks:

    We won the Battle of Midway in large part because we were reading Japanese codes, and were able to set up an ambush.

    A reporter for the Chicago Tribune at the battle learned this, and wrote a story mentioning that we were reading Japanese codes — which the Tribune published.

    The Roosevelt administration was enraged — rightly — but decided not to prosecute because that would draw attention to the story.

    (There is no major news organization in the United States half as hostile to Trump as the Tribune then was to FDR.)

  10. Cornhead Says:

    Big Maq

    That was the main point of the leak. To undercut Trump’s ability to have private and frank conversations with foreign leaders. The MSM is working 24/7 to destroy Trump.

  11. Jim Miller Says:

    neo – What you call a “gut feeling”, I would call “thinking fast”, using Daniel Kahneman’s terminology. (I assume you have read his book; I think it almost essential for anyone who wants to learn to think “slow” (rationally) about politics. Or, if not his book, some of his earlier work with Tversky.)

    My point is simple: We do not know, from public sources, who leaked the transcripts, and why. I think you agree with me on that.

    Now let me extend the point: Similarly, we do not know the sources of most of the other leaks from the administration. We do know, from other presidencies, that leaks often are a reflection of factional fighting within an administration. So it is possible — I would say likely from previous experience — that some of those leaks come from Trump loyalists within the administration, as part of fights over personnel and policy.

    In other words, I am saying it is likely that people within his administration are behaving in ways that are “normal”, though hardly admirable.

    Now I have to go work on other things.

  12. neo-neocon Says:

    Jim Miller:

    Gut feeling plus some logic, actually.

    Perhaps I’m giving them too much credit, but I think Trump and his people do not want to undermine national security by destroying the trust needed to talk to other world leaders on the phone.

  13. M J R Says:


    I think you’re giving them too much credit.

    They didn’t even care about the security pertaining to their own (Democrat) party. Most of ’em, led by Queen Hillary, don’t give a flying f**k about the security of the USA, as far as I can see.

  14. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “I am saying it is likely that people within his administration are behaving in ways that are “normal”, though hardly admirable.” Jim M.

    That does not account for the unheard of level of leaks and how harmful they’ve been to trump and his administration.

    “Most of ’em, led by Queen Hillary, don’t give a flying f**k about the security of the USA” MJR

    It extends far beyond simple indifference to the nation’s security. They are actively working to destroy this country on every front. Preferably, as a necessary transition to a ‘just’ (as they define it from minute to minute) society. Failing that, they’ll happily settle for America’s consignment to history’s ‘dust bin’.

    “The main obstacle to a stable and just world order is the United States.” George Soros

    And, when the consequence is a new dark age of heretofore unimaginable dimensions, they’ll go to their graves denying any responsibility whatsoever.

  15. Manju Says:

    I think Trump and his people do not want to undermine national security by destroying the trust needed to talk to other world leaders on the phone.

    Why is “I love Wikileaks” Trump above reproach?

    Remember, this organization that he loved and that one of his surrogates (Palin) apologized to was one that balked at the NYTimes demand to redact the names of Afghan villages who informed on the Taliban.

    “Well they’re informants. So, if they get killed, they’ve got it coming to them. They deserve it;” Assauge is reported to have said. This is who Trump is willing to love.

  16. M J R Says:

    I fear there has been, on my part, a conflating of the Democrat side with associated leaks, with the Trump side with associated leaks. And then there’s the additional problem of who’s responsible for which leaks.

    (Therefore, my response of 6:40 pm may not be making sufficient sense.)

    Carry on, friends . . .

  17. Big Maq Says:

    “That was the main point of the leak. To undercut Trump’s ability to have private and frank conversations with foreign leaders.” – Cornhead

    Highly doubt that.

    I don’t see any likely scenario where actively endangering or hobbling the US is an advantage from a leaker’s perspective, unless they are a russian mole or similar.

    Unintended consequences, with the intention to embarrass trump – more likely.

    As for the msm, aside from bias, are in a competitive business for attention. Incentives are too great to keep this kind of thing under wraps.

    It is poor judgement on wapo’s part (given their position in the msm hierarchy), but there should be no doubt that one of the other media outlets would soon release it, if a leaker was willing to provide it to them. (I also believe Fox News, Hannity, etc., would broadcast it if it were obama).

    Yes, the media loses what is left of their credibility by things like this and their over hyped sensationalizing even the smallest of things.

    But, it is still the leaker knowingly taking advantage of these dynamics in the media.

    What if we were to find out that trump or someone near him was leaking this on his behalf, with the thinking that it shows trump to be a “tough negotiator”, and would play well to his base, while discrediting the msm or feeding the “besieged by leakers” meme?

    Certainly plausible, given what we’ve seen from the trump team to date. I’d like to believe not, but, THIS is a core problem for this presidency – it IS plausible!

    It may be more likely someone looking to embarrass trump, but we won’t know until they find out who actually did leak it, if we ever find out.

    Curious. What were the opinions about the media and the leaker(s) during the Nixon Watergate era?

  18. Frog Says:

    If you object to the WaPo, now owned by Bezos, also Lord of Amazon, would you consider taking down your Amazon link, Neo?

  19. neo-neocon Says:


    I’ve thought about things like that, including whether I (myself, personally) should be using Amazon.

    My decision to continue to use it for my personal shopping (for books and for some other things) is a combination of deciding I like the convenience as well as that Amazon (run by Bezos) is not the same as the WaPo (run by Bezos). In general, I’m not much of an economic boycotter, unless the thing I’m boycotting directly advocates something of which I strongly disapprove. Amazon is far more than Bezos, and is certainly not the WaPo.

    However, your question was about my Amazon links on the blog, which is a different (and in some ways easier) question. I’ve never really advocated that people use Amazon if they’re not already using it (Shh! Don’t tell Amazon!). I don’t tell them not to use it, either. My links (and I think I’ve been pretty explicit about this) are for people who already like to use Amazon, and if they want me to get some of the cut then they should use my portal when they use Amazon. Now, granted, perhaps some people use Amazon because of those links who otherwise wouldn’t, but my impression is that they use it anyway and I’m just getting a tiny percentage of the money, instead of Amazon getting it.

    Putting all those things together, I have no problem having Amazon links on the blog. Some day I may decide otherwise, I suppose, but unless something changes at Amazon I don’t think I’ll change my mind.

    My biggest beef with Amazon is how it has helped to drive out smaller and/or local stores. But I think that ship has sailed.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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