Power Players

Ex-FBI hostage negotiator on the shutdown: This is what has to happen before Trump makes a deal

FBI Negotiator: Here's how to beat Trump at his own game
FBI Negotiator: Here's how to beat Trump at his own game

The ongoing government shutdown, now in its 27th day, is the longest in history with no end in sight.

Negotiations between Democratic leaders and President Donald Trump have been at an impasse for weeks over the refusal of both sides to budge from their stances on Trump's demand for $5.7 billion to fund a border wall. With more than 800,000 furloughed federal employees going without pay, and the potential economic cost of the shutdown growing every day, most Americans are wondering how and when it will finally be resolved.

So what does an expert negotiator have to say about it? Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss gave CNBC Make It his take.

Voss, who was the FBI's lead international kidnapping negotiator and a member of the New York City Joint Terrorist Task Force for 14 years, predicts the shutdown will "last a little longer."

"There's going to be some more pain," he tells CNBC Make It. Trump's "base is going to have to feel it some more."

In other words, Trump is dug in on the issue of funding a border wall — which he promised repeatedly during his 2016 presidential campaign — and he's unlikely to budge unless he starts to lose support among his more ardent backers, according to Voss.

"People make their decision over what's the biggest loss," Voss says. "And, until he's really worried about the loss of his base, he's not going to make a deal."

A new CNN poll found Trump to be losing support among one of his key demographics: white Americans without college degrees. However, in December, Trump was seen as doubling down on the border wall issue due to its importance to the conservative right, including pundits like Ann Coulter.

Voss, founder and CEO of strategy consultancy Black Swan Group, previously told CNBC's "Power Lunch" that Trump is "an assertive, openly aggressive negotiator."

"He's actually the kind of negotiator that as a hostage negotiator I had to learn how to get the upper hand on, without making them mad, without making it worse," Voss said.

Chris Voss, former lead international kidnapping negotiator for the FBI
Courtesy of The Black Swan Grouop

The problem with that style, according to Voss, is that "people get tired of dealing with them."

Trump stormed out of a meeting with Democrats a week ago. Such a tactic can make it more difficult to find a long-term solution if it alienates the other side.

"Aggressive tactics, short term, are eminently satisfying, and then you run into trouble and you start having problems long term," Voss tells CNBC Make It.

Voss isn't alone. Several other negotiations experts have pointed out that Trump's negotiating style — a zero-sum strategy in which there's only one winner and one loser rather than both sides getting something — may be better suited to real estate deals, where you can always find another deal partner, than more high-stakes political negotiations where it is imperative that two sides reach an agreement.

Meanwhile, Voss is impressed by Trump's counterparts, Democratic leaders like Charles Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Voss says has a lot of negotiating experience now that she's in her second stint as speaker.

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Voss thinks Pelosi and Schumer are smart to remain calm and steadfast in their refusal to give in to the White House's demands.

"The people [on] the Senate side and on the House side, they've just decided they're going to have to buckle up, and they're going to have to bear down, and they're going to have to survive this. This is a storm and they've got to ride out the storm. And, I think that's the smartest move."

Voss says it's important that anyone trying to negotiate with a combative negotiator like Trump not try to "fight fire with fire." They can have more success by staying patient with the expectation that a combative negotiator will eventually settle down and become more open to compromise.

"Calm is contagious," Voss says. "Patience preserves relationships. Once you understand that patience and silence is a weapon, you can use it to great effect."

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