There are a lot of people out there who say that we shouldn’t write about Donald Trump. They call him a figure of fun, an entertainer. But at this point, Donald Trump has been leading in the national republican primary polls for longer than any of the anti-Romneys we saw in 2012:

The day may come when Trump no longer leads in the polls, but it is not this day–despite the claims of pundits to the contrary, far more viewers picked Trump as the winner of yesterday’s GOP debate than picked any other candidate:

So I think it’s appropriate to take Trump seriously, to really try to figure out what makes him tick and what his appeal is. To that end, I have acquired and read, cover to cover, The Art of the Deal, Trump’s 1987 bestseller. I am now prepared to share what I have learned with you.

Donald Trump is extremely proud of this book. It’s his second favorite of all time, after The Bible:

He mentions it a lot:

I wrote The Art of the Deal. Right? We need the Art of the Deal. We need the Art. They never read it in this administration. They’re the only people that didn’t read it.

Over and over:

I wrote The Art of the Deal, which is — I guess the biggest — I think the biggest — the biggest-selling business book of all time, and [the Iran nuclear agreement] is not the art of the deal, this is the art of a person that has no idea what he’s doing.

Again and again:

Let’s say I was worth $10. People would say, ‘Who the fuck are you?’ You understand? They know my statement. Fortune. My book, The Art of the Deal, based on my fortune. If I didn’t make a fortune, who the fuck is going to buy The Art of the Deal? That’s why they watched The Apprentice, because of my great success.

So what can you learn from The Art of the Deal? Quite a bit, actually. The way I see it, there are two key things you can learn about:

  1. Trump’s Tactics
  2. Trump’s Politics

Let’s take each in turn.

Trump’s Tactics

Trump gives a list of “elements of the deal”–tactics he uses to get what he wants in life. In the 1980’s, Trump used these tactics primarily to negotiate real estate deals, but it is very evident that he continues to use many of the very same tactics in his political campaign. The list includes:

  1. Think Big–essentially always aim very high and work obsessively to achieve your aim.
  2. Protect the Downside–avoid exposing yourself to risk unnecessarily.
  3. Maximize Your Options–always have backup plans.
  4. Know Your Market–give the people what they want.
  5. Use Your Leverage–always negotiate from strength.
  6. Enhance Your Location–take what you have and make it better.
  7. Get the Word Out–self-promote, and self-promote loudly.
  8. Fight Back–always hit back against critics and adversaries, even if it looks bad.
  9. Deliver the Goods–do what you promise to do.
  10. Contain the Costs–avoid spending more than you have to.
  11. Have Fun–because for him, that’s the whole point.

Throughout the book, Trump tells stories of the deals he tries to make with various people. He is consistently very blunt and very confrontational. He draws attention to himself and forces people to respond to him. He is totally single-minded about his deals–he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t take time off, he spends all day everyday talking to people about deals. Everything he says is and does is part of a purposeful strategy with a singular goal–getting Trump whatever Trump wants. The man does nothing flippantly. A lot of people think that Trump’s hostility and hyperbole are signs that he is to some degree unhinged, but after reading The Art of the Deal, I am convinced that these are deliberate ploys by Trump to constantly siphon off all the attention so that he can frame the entire campaign on his terms. When Trump promises a wall with Mexico and to make Mexico pay for the wall, he is intentionally trying to galvanize people with an over the top idea that makes him look like a visionary, like someone with grand ambitions who will not allow himself to be confined by the rules and norms of ordinary politics. Because he does this with aggressiveness and exaggeration, he appears very off the cuff and extemporaneous. In reality, I am highly confident that he deliberately employs these tactics and that quite a bit of thought went into his decision to choose to use the immigration issue as his flagship.

Trump’s Politics

Throughout The Art of the Deal, Trump consistently takes left wing political positions and says left wing things. Among other things, Trump claims:

  1. That the stock market is no different from casino gambling.
  2. That reductions in government spending on public housing have devastated the quality of housing available to the poor.
  3. That the government should rent control apartments, but only for the poor and middle class.
  4. That governments could manage businesses and construction projects much more effectively if they only had proper leadership and repealed a few critical laws that make it difficult for governments to ensure they get good work.

Indeed, Trump has a lengthy history of being quite left wing on most issues, but he is left wing in an uncharacteristically belligerent and aggressive manner, and this makes him feel right wing even when he is saying quite left wing things. In the two republican debates and beyond, we’ve seen Trump’s left wing views surface on a number of occasions. He’s been for single payer healthcare:

Trump accuses the other candidates of being bought and paid for by rich people:

Trump says he wants to raise taxes on the wealthy. He opposed Ben Carson on the flat tax. He’s promised not to cut entitlement programs. These positions clearly make Trump the most left wing republican candidate on economic policy. Republican voters either don’t realize Trump is left wing on most issues or they don’t care–by taking the most bellicose stand on immigration, Trump ensures that he continues to be thought of as right wing even as he continues to abandon the party platform on so many other issues. He’s even quietly taken a foreign policy position that is quite similar to Obama’s. He said to Jeb Bush:

Your brother — and your brother’s administration gave us Barack Obama, because it was such a disaster, those last three months, that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have been elected.

He spoke of his long record of skepticism about military interventions:

I am the only person on this dais — the only person — that fought very, very hard against us (ph), and I wasn’t a sitting politician going into Iraq, because I said going into Iraq — that was in 2003, you can check it out, check out — I’ll give you 25 different stories. In fact, a delegation was sent to my office to see me because I was so vocal about it. I’m a very militaristic person, but you have to know when to use the military. I’m the only person up here that fought against going into Iraq.

On Syria and ISIS, Trump argued for doing even less than Obama is doing:

Syria’s a mess. You look at what’s going on with ISIS in there, now think of this: we’re fighting ISIS. ISIS wants to fight Syria. Why are we fighting ISIS in Syria? Let them fight each other and pick up the remnants.

He also implied that he would not threatened to use military force in response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons:

I wouldn’t have drawn the line…

In some places, Trump gives policy positions that are incoherent, misinformed, or morally disgusting (e.g. immigration, climate change, vaccines, etc.). But it ought to be recognized that Trump is without a doubt the least conservative republican candidate available. On economic and foreign policy issues, he is a de facto democrat. Indeed, Hillary Clinton is clearly more right wing than Trump on many issues, ranging from the role money plays in politics to the circumstances under which the US ought to use its military forces. A left wing person who particularly cares about foreign policy issues and is deeply anti-interventionist could defensibly justify supporting Trump ahead of Clinton on the grounds that Clinton has consistently supported an array of military interventions all of which Trump has opposed and continues to oppose.

Trump is a deeply flawed candidate, but he is not nearly as categorically objectionable as he is often painted. Aside from immigration, there is no issue on which it is obvious that a Trump presidency would be any more disastrous than a Bush presidency, and there are a number of issues where Trump clearly has the upper hand. There are many republican candidates who are much more hostile to the poor, much more determined to start unnecessary wars, and much more dependent on funding from outside donors. If the republicans do nominate Trump, he will be the least conservative candidate they’ve nominated since Nixon. Given the Republican Party’s track record of extremism, they could do a lot worse.