A border patrol agent guards the US-Mexico border fence as seen from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico. Picture: Guillermo Arias/AFP
A border patrol agent guards the US-Mexico border fence as seen from Tijuana, Baja California state, Mexico. Picture: Guillermo Arias/AFP

US President Donald Trump fancies himself a great dealmaker in the sense that he "wins" for his "team". That ability is being tested to the max in the current partial government shutdown in the US and the result, whatever it is, will likely set the tone for the remaining years of his presidency — and not just locally.

Meanwhile, a lot of people will get hurt. In the standoff between Trump and the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, about 800,000 government workers are about to miss their first monthly pay cheque; about 400,000 are seen as "essential" and are expected to work without pay. Everything from retirement applications to drug testing is on hold as the shutdown enters its third week.

The core of the problem is that Trump has demanded that the US government fund the southern border wall he promised during his election campaign and the Democratic Party is refusing to do so. Both sides clearly sense this is a pivotal moment, and failing could set a precedent.

Both are therefore trying to set the debate in a way that advantages them. The result is that some parts of the federal government have been funded and others not.

Trump’s negotiating tactics come directly out of the poker players’ handbook. First, vacillate wildly to keep your opponents off balance. Second, try to make them believe you are crazy enough to do the unthinkable. And, third, taunt or flatter them to tempt them into acting irrationally.

How will it end? Trump has some great advantages: the megaphonic power of the presidential office; a direct, unmediated link with the electorate through social media, which allows him to shape the debate; and the reputation of being an unhinged maverick, which makes him a difficult negotiating adversary.

But he also has several disadvantages, most important of which is that the Republican Party no longer holds power in both houses of Congress.

There is a possible compromise: most Democrats are not in favour of open borders, so increasing funding for border control is not anathema to them, particularly if it were paired with a deal for migrants and asylum seekers.

The question for both parties is whether that would be seen as a climb-down or a compromise.