Can a Grand Bargain Rescue Your Public Policy Goals?

I’ve written in recent weeks about the unpredictability of the new president-elect and how that affects businesses attempting to establish ties with the nascent administration. In an effort to gather as much intelligence as possible, I’ve been talking with public affairs pros to get their takes.

A few days ago, I had one of those light bulb moments when talking with a colleague about this. He viewed the aura of unpredictability as a potential positive in some cases, on the assumption that the new president, largely free of any political philosophy, might bring warring parties to the bargaining table. He does, after all, see himself as the world’s best negotiator. What better way to prove it than to bring to agreement a bunch of strange bedfellows?

  • Industry and environmentalists
  • Fast food restaurants and health experts
  • Charter school activists and teachers’ unions
  • Abortion rights advocates and foes

In fact, my colleague and I looked at each other and, at nearly the very same moment, said, “I think you might be on to something here.”


In the best of all worlds, there could be a series of “Nixon goes to China” pacts, an approach that few others are capable of executing. Admittedly, a lot would have to go right for this to happen. But think of the opportunities for a string of grand bargains. It would allow the egotist in Trump to crow that he brought together the best and brightest, locked them in a room, and hammered out an agreement. Do you think he might find it appealing to shout that he was the one that did what no one else could?

The trick here is to let the new president bask in the limelight. Let’s face it, this is not a man who enjoys being overshadowed. Even Vice President-elect Pence is reported to be sensitive about overshadowing his boss and incurring his wrath.

Who cares if he gets the credit (and we all know that he will claim 100 percent of the credit)? If your interests can negotiate an agreement that gives you a good chunk of what you seek, isn’t that a victory? Won’t that save you from exhausting the resources required by a political death match? Might it allow you to move on to other issues that have been blocked for years?

From the uncharted waters department: Those with public policy issues must now be sensitive about how your issues could impact Trump’s business interests. We’ve never experienced anything like this before, and the president-to-be has not yet been forthcoming about how he plans to deal with his potential business conflicts. Indeed, look for this topic to receive much ink in the media. One signal of its high profile: NPR has established a new beat dedicated to conflicts of interest (full disclosure: Marilyn Geewax, my friend and colleague on the National Press Club Board of Governors, is spearheading that beat).

Back on the ground, it is instructive to consider how others are reaching out to the Trump team:

  • Reporters: I attended a post-election panel with three prominent reporters, all of whom admitted to having no idea who to talk with. Other scribes are telling me stories of failing to get their calls returned when contacting campaign media relations staff.
  • Republicans: You would think that, since the incoming administration at least nominally represents the GOP that members of that party would have established channels of communication. In most cases, you would be wrong.
  • Democrats: With the shock of the election results beginning to wear off, the opposition party is seeking out any possible avenue. Hey, even Al Gore got an audience with the great man. But Democrats have their own internal wounds to bind, too, and that will likely prove a distraction to getting things done.

Where are confounded businesses to go from here? I asked that question of the reporters mentioned above. It was met with a few seconds of utter silence. All the panelists first admitted to having no good ideas. Then they began spitballing some ideas which, on the surface, sound kind of crazy. But give them deeper thought and they make a lot of sense. Try to gain entrée into the Trump inner circle by tapping into circles that already exist:

  • Activate contacts in the Republican National Committee (RNC) on the assumption that incoming White House Chief of Staff and current RNC Chairman Reince Priebus will bring some of his RNC people to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with him.
  • Seek out ties to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who appears poised to play an outsize role in the administration.
  • Examine whether you have any connections to Trump’s friends in the New York development community. These are the people he knows best and reportedly trusts most.

Make no mistake, this is not going to be an easy transition for most businesses with hot public policy initiatives. To help raise your odds for success, allow me to reiterate my advice from an earlier thought piece:

  1. Get moving.
  2. Share your thoughts in the comments section on this page.
  3. Contact me directly for help. Here’s my direct line: (540) 955-0600. Use it. Today.

On an administrative note: Many blogs and publications are signing off for the holiday season. Not The Media Training Blog. I’ll publish next Tuesday as usual. Some of us will at least pretend to be working.



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