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A deal to leave the White House? How Donald Trump could do this

The Hill logo The Hill 11/10/2020 Steve Israel, opinion contributor
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: A deal to leave the White House? How Donald Trump could do this © Getty Images A deal to leave the White House? How Donald Trump could do this

In the crush of debate about how and when Donald Trump may leave the White House, the most insightful forecasts may have come from a friend of mine who actually knows the president. He is one successful New York real estate investor. He has sat on the other side of the table with Trump negotiating a significant transaction. It was that instance, among others, that compelled this ironclad conservative Republican to back Joe Biden. On Saturday, within minutes of the cascading declarations of victory for Biden, was a fascinating glimpse into how Trump handles defeat.

"This is his last chance to act like the president and he will not grab it," my friend told me. "I have constantly considered his behavior at home and on the world stage through the lens of his business background. So I suspect that like a New York real estate developer whose project is under financial water with his lender, his intuition is that before he concedes, Trump can somehow seek concessions from the lender. With this case, he views the lender as the Democrats, the Electoral College, and the people."

So in other words, even when Trump loses, he believes he still deserves a win. He extracts some value and forces some hand back. He can be under water, either with money or by five million votes, but he does not give up until someone gives in. I replied that tenancy for the White House is not a simple real estate contract. It is determined by the Constitution.

"It has not sunk in with him that elections only have binary outcomes with a winner and a loser. Trump does not yet embrace the notion. He seems to not understand the concept that there is no chance that he can have Mike Pence replace Kamala Harris, have a severance check sent to him and his family, have a cut of future tariffs, and so forth," my friend said.

What does a former New York real estate developer demand if 75 million voters, the Constitution, and over two centuries of peaceful transfers of power stand in his way? "Maybe he believes he can trade for a favorable resolution on his $70 million tax audit or a pardon on his New York state investigation. Who knows?" my friend wondered out loud to me.

Politics has an arc, however, the mercenary instincts of this president are unbending. He goes out the way he came in kicking and screaming. He is as selfish in the final days as he was in the early days. The past four years bookended by enrichment. The art of his deal has always been a portrait of venality. Trump has a documented history of pinching buyers, sellers, partners, investors, and consumers. Now he may be applying the tactics to the United States, holding a smooth transition, which is necessary for our national security, hostage to this demand for legal security.

The world waits for the next president. But Trump views it as his monopoly board, where one can propose, as he did, to buy Greenland and perhaps a "get out of jail card." The issue is that he does not hold the cards. At some point, the people who care about him will find out this is not a game. They will coax him away from the poker table like a lapsed member of Gamblers Anonymous. Yet I do not think he will leave calmly or graciously.

One of the problems with Trump is that he rarely has a clean exit strategy. He blusters and sometimes cheats his way of predicaments just because he can. He leaves a wake of damage to vendors and contractors. Most of our presidents in history entered office by winning elections. Trump may now be the first one to leave office by trying to extort the voters.

Steve Israel represented New York in the House over eight terms and was chairman with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can follow his updates @RepSteveIsrael.

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