October 10, 2017
President Donald Trump could sit down for lunch with a reanimated Albert Einstein and – if challenged – would still boast about being the smartest person in the room.
Trump reaffirmed in an interview with Forbes that he believes reports that Tillerson once privately called him a “fucking moron” aren’t true. But in any event – just in case – a quick IQ test should be enough to repudiate any lingering doubts about the president’s superior intellect.
He counterpunches, in this case firing a shot at Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who reportedly called his boss a moron:
“I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
Moving on from the discussion of the Trump-Tillerson feud that dominated political news last week (even reportedly overshadowing, in the president’s mind, his visit with victims and their families in Las Vegas following the worst mass shooting in US history), Trump told his Forbes interviewer about a new economic-development bill being formulated by the White House. Trump kept things vague, saying that the bill would punish employers who send jobs overseas while “rewarding” companies that keep jobs here.
And above all, he sells : “I also have another bill … an economic-development bill, which I think will be fantastic. Which nobody knows about. Which you are hearing about for the first time… . Economic-development incentives for companies. Incentives for companies to be here.”
Companies that keep jobs in America get rewarded; those that send operations offshore “get penalized severely.” “It’s both a carrot and a stick,” says the president. “It is an incentive to stay. But it is perhaps even more so–if you leave, it’s going to be very tough for you to think that you’re going to be able to sell your product back into our country.”
Trump’s quest for “validation” – a theme that’s been surprisingly consistent throughout his career – inspired him to repeatedly badger the magazine’s editors to raise his ranking on its Forbes 400 list.
Numbers offer Trump validation. They determine the winner or loser of any deal and establish an industry hierarchy. It’s why Trump, more than any of the 1,600 or so people who’ve been on The Forbes 400, has spent more time lobbying and cajoling Forbes to get a higher valuation – and validation.
Many of Trump’s habits and tactics from his days as a real estate developer have carried over into the White House. One such habit is his fondness for manipulating numbers to exaggerate his performance, as he candidly explains to Forbes.
He also uses numbers as leverage, a way to set parameters and eventually declare victory. Back when he bought the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League in 1984, he reportedly described his bidding style to his fellow owners thusly: “When I build something for somebody, I always add $50 million or $60 million onto the price. My guys come in, they say it’s going to cost $75 million. I say it’s going to cost $125 million and I build it for $100 million. Basically, I did a lousy job. But they think I did a great job.”
According to Trump, that trick explains the current proposal to cut the corporate tax rate to 20%, after months of saying he wanted to go even lower, to 15%. “I was actually saying 15 for the purpose of getting to 20,” he says, adding, “As you know, this will be a negotiation for the next 30 days. But I wanted the 15 in order to get to 20.”
Trump – who just yesterday was branded “the president without a party” by the Wall Street Journal – has been roundly criticized by his fellow Republicans for his willingness to work with Democrats. But, as Forbes explains, in Trump’s mind, the Democrats are just another “bidder” to use as leverage against his enemies in the Republican party.
One bid, however, isn’t enough. In a transactional mindset, when the person across the table is a competitor rather than a partner, the best terms come from creating multiple bidders. Which explains his sudden fondness for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, whether on the debt-limit increase, immigration proposals for Dreamers (at least briefly) or health care. “I think the Democrats want to make a deal,” says Trump, referring to Obamacare. “At the same time, I think I have a deal with the Republicans. So I have the best of both worlds. That’s business to a certain extent… . I’m very able to make deals with Democrats if I have to.” The specter of playing each side off the other also looms over tax negotiations. “We’ll be talking about all of it. You know, it will be a very serious set of negotiations going on over the next period of time.”
Of course, those who don’t see eye-to-eye with the president will feel his Twitter lash: Ask Ryan (“does zilch!”), McConnell (“get back to work”), Schumer (“Cryin’ Chuck”), Lindsay Graham (“dumb mouthpiece”), Elizabeth Warren (“Very racist!”), John McCain (“dummy!”) or approximately 1,000 others in the past year who have had the temerity to stand up to the president. Much as these digs seem personal, in truth he’s just sticking with a business tactic he’s long employed. Again, from The Art of the Deal: “I’m the first to admit that I am very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win. Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition.”
To summarize the interview, in Trump’s world, internecine warfare is cast as healthy competition; numbers are marketing tools to be manipulated and the IQ test is the single greatest tool for quantifying intelligence. And, in this particular case, there’s no public disagreement that a quick flash of his Mensa membership card wouldn’t settle.