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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

World leaders are learning to play President Trump using his own set of predictable negotiating tricks. The most vivid example of this: French President Emmanuel Macron bragging to Trump that he was jamming him by stealing "The Art of the Deal" techniques, Axios has learned. 

The scene: Perched on white leather armchairs in their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Brussels, Trump and Macron soon turned to the unavoidable subject: The expanding trade war between the United States and Europe.

  • Trump, after whacking the Europeans with steel and aluminum tariffs, has been frustrated by the European Union's retribution. The Europeans have designed tariffs with the goal of inflicting as much political pain as possible on Trump. They targeted Kentucky's bourbon industry, Harley Davidson motorcycles and America's iconic Levi brand jeans.

During their tête-à-tête, Trump suggested to Macron that he tell the European Union they ought to negotiate with the U.S., according to a source familiar with the conversation.

Macron replied that no, actually he was not in favor of negotiating under threat.

  • "I read the Art of the Deal," the French president told Trump, with a smile. "I know that we need to retaliate first so we have some leverage in the negotiation."

Why it matters: Like many foreign leaders, Macron has learned that the only language the U.S. president understands is the un-nuanced, transactional language of dealmaking and the blunt projection of strength. It's why Trump is drawn to strongmen and belittles those he considers "weak" like Canada's Trudeau (whom Trump publicly refers to as "Justin.")

What we're hearing: A senior Trump administration official told me another story that illuminates this part of Trump's mindset. As we know, Trump was glued to the television as former FBI director James Comey testified before Congress on March 20 of 2017.

  • Trump would never admit this publicly, but he told people afterwards that he was impressed by the performance of his Democratic nemesis Adam Schiff. Trump hates Schiff and calls him a horrible liar. But he marveled at Schiff's tough and surgical opening statement that day.
  • More than six months after the hearing, Trump told an aide how impressive he considered Schiff's performance to be. "This is like September or October last year," a source who discussed the matter with Trump recalled. "Trump was like, 'I watched that [Schiff's statement] and thought I had committed a crime!'"
  • "He has respect for the adversaries that have the balls to take it to him like he takes it to them," the source added.

The Chinese have absorbed this lesson the best. They have engaged in a trade war with no armistice in sight. Trump has threatened the Chinese with tariffs on more than $500 billion of Chinese imports; but, as we've reported, he's playing a dangerous game. China is fully prepared to retaliate and out-wait America.

The bottom line: President Xi is playing Trump's game with a much better political hand. The Chinese leader enjoys the advantages of authoritarianism — "president for life" as Trump admiringly calls him.

  • Unlike Trump, Xi doesn't have to worry about annoying obstacles like Congress and elections. And while a trade war would hurt both nations badly — as my colleagues have written — a state-run government can do more to artificially prop up its economy than a capitalistic one.

Go deeper

Updated 10 mins ago - Health

California surpasses 50,000 COVID-19 deaths

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California's death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 on Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: It's the first state to record more than 50,000 deaths from the coronavirus.

1 hour ago - Technology

Facebook bans Myanmar military

A protester holds a placard with a three-finger salute in front of a military tank parked aside the street in front of the Central Bank building during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo by Aung Kyaw Htet/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Facebook said on Wednesday it would ban the rest of the Myanmar military from its platform.

The big picture: It comes some three weeks after the military overthrew the civilian government in a coup and detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi, causing massive protests to erupt throughout the country. Military leaders have been using internet blackouts to try to maintain power in light of the coup.

It's harder to fill the Cabinet

Data: Chamberlain, 2020, "United States of America Cabinet Appointments Dataset" Chart: Will Chase/Axios

It's harder now for presidents to win Senate confirmation for their Cabinet picks, an Axios data analysis of votes for and against nominees found.

Why it matters: It's not just Neera Tanden. The trend is a product of growing polarization, rougher political discourse and slimming Senate majorities, experts say. It means some of the nation's most vital federal agencies go without a leader and the legislative authority that comes with one.