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President Trump wanted Mexico’s President to stop saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for the wall so he called him but when Pena Nieto came on the line he told Trump the last thing Trump wanted to hear: He said he could never agree for Mexico to pay for the wall.

Trump purred, told Pena Nieto he’d stated his position “beautifully,” then made his first move: He said the U.S. had a $60 billion trade deficit with Mexico and he wanted to put a border tariff on Mexican imports. A lot of factories, Trump said, in Ohio and Michigan had closed and a lot of people had lost their jobs and he’d won both states and after he won people had been dancing in the streets.

No one gets people to rallies like I did, Trump said.  

That sounds like Trump’s vanity getting the better of him but, I expect, there’s more to it than that: Donald Trump is a rare American archetype, a chief in a tiny tribe of men who live atop New York skyscrapers and make deals and share a code and Trump had just repeated a formula that had worked for years: Schmooze, threaten, and boast.

Trump made his next move: He told Pena Nieto he had to stop saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for the wall – instead, Trump said, We should both say, ‘We will work it out.’ As opposed to you saying, ‘We will not pay’ and me saying, ‘We will not pay.’

It didn’t work. Pena Nieto didn’t blink. He said: This is what I suggest. Let us stop talking about the wall. Period. Otherwise, Nieto added, he’d go right on saying Mexico wouldn’t pay for the wall.

That wasn’t what Trump wanted to hear: You cannot say that to the press. I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press, he said – then he repeated the formula: Schmooze, threaten, boast.

But Pena Nieto didn’t budge.

Seven hours later Trump picked up the telephone to make another call to tell Australia’s Prime Minister he wanted to cancel the agreement – Obama had made – that required America to take 1,250 refugees from Australia.

Repeating the formula he told Malcolm Turnbull how he loved Australia and how he loved the Australian people but then hammered home one point: Over and over Trump told Turnbull ‘this deal is going to kill me’ – the deal, he said, would make him look ‘stupid,’ ‘terrible,’ ‘foolish’ and like a ‘dope.’  

He didn’t argue the deal was wrong or wicked instead he said over and over it would make him look bad which sounded vain too but that wasn’t the whole story: To dealmakers living atop New York skyscrapers mistakes are a problem but looking bad is worse. Looking bad is a cardinal sin. And Trump knew it in his bones. It was part of the code. And he wanted Turnbull to understand what he was asking Trump to do was an outrage.

But Turnbull didn’t budge.

He bluntly told Trump ‘a deal is a deal’ and Trump, vexed, told Turnbull, I’ve had it. I’ve been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.


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