It was a characteristic end to an often tumultuous year
The President regularly found himself exactly where he wanted to be: at the center of attention
All was not calm and bright on President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed this Christmas.
Trump, marking his first Christmas as President from his private club here, balanced the traditional presidential holiday tasks – teleconferencing with the troops, speaking with young kids looking for Santa Claus and attending a late-night church service – with the fire-breathing tweets that helped turn him from boisterous businessman to an unconventional commander in chief.
It was a characteristic end to an often tumultuous year, where the President regularly found himself exactly where he wanted to be: at the center of attention.
Trump celebrated the holiday with his family around him at Mar-a-Lago, the private estate that Trump has warmed to calling the “Winter White House.” Joined by most of his children and grandchildren, along with first lady Melania Trump and her parents, the Trump brood sat at the center of the club’s dining room on Sunday night, kept at arm’s length with rope-and-stanchion around their tables.
Feasting on turkey, beef tenderloin and creamy kale, Trump was said to be in good spirits and surrounded by the friends and informal advisers that make up the group of men and women who help steer the President from outside the White House.
Even in his comfort zone, though, the President’s Twitter feed raged at familiar targets such as the FBI, the bureau’s outgoing Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and the news media. In one retweet, he shared a user’s image of him speaking on the phone that included what appeared to be a blood splat with the CNN logo in the center on the bottom of his shoe.
Trump slammed McCabe for that fact that his wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, ran for Virginia state senate as a Democrat and received donations from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s political action committee.
McCabe told senior FBI officials months ago he was planning on retiring in the coming months, two sources familiar with his plans told CNN. The tweets, however, have lead some Democratic lawmakers – who have watched Trump attack the FBI and denigrate special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian collusion – to speculate that Trump is trying to force McCabe out early.
Even away from the often-restricting White House, the tweets were a reminder that Trump enjoys turning to his millions of followers to slam those who he felt have wronged him in his first year in office.
On the list: Political correctness. Trump tweeted an hour before arriving at church that he is “proud to have led the charge against the assault of our cherished and beautiful phrase,” an oft-used – and little-evidenced – line criticizing people who say Happy Holidays, not Merry Christmas.
The President is at his most comfortable in Mar-a-Lago, according to friends and advisers, who say Trump will regularly work the room at the club, socialize with members and use them as sounding boards for his thoughts and ideas. He has been coming to the club since the 1980s and has maintained close relationships with the monied families that make up the Palm Beach social scene.
On his first Christmas as President, Mar-a-Lago has been rendered a veritable fortress, with police cars blocking most traffic past the palatial estate and Coast Guard cutters bobbing along the Atlantic beach and Intracoastal Waterway that sandwich the property.
Trump treated the hundreds of law enforcement and military personnel securing his vacation to a Christmas lunch at his estate on Monday in a show of appreciation for their work, a source said. The spread featured typical Christmas dishes and was paid for privately by the President. He wasn’t expected to attend the buffet himself.
Trump’s time in Florida also frequently means time on the golf course. Trump golfed on Saturday with pro-golfers Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Jim Herman and with friends on Sunday.
Past presidents have mainly celebrated Christmas away from cameras. George W. Bush spent the holiday at Camp David, tucked away in Maryland’s snowy mountains, before decamping to his Texas ranch. Barack Obama visited troops at the Kaneohe Bay Marine Corps base near his rental compound on Oahu, but otherwise remained out of view.
In see-and-be-seen Palm Beach, however, Trump has embraced a public display of holiday cheer.
Cameras captured him seated in the vast Mar-a-Lago living room on Sunday morning addressing American troops deployed overseas. He told them he was “proudly” declaring it a Merry Christmas again.
Later, the cameras returned to the same room, where Trump and the first lady were posted up next to a towering Christmas tree, phoning children with updates on Santa Claus’ sleigh as tracked by the North American Aerospace Defense Command.
After his Christmas Eve meal and a few after-dinner tweets, Trump’s motorcade set off for the Bethesda-by-the-Sea church, three miles north on Palm Beach island.
The site of Trump’s 2005 wedding to Melania, the gothic stone building was crowded with worshipers, who were politely chided to put away their camera phones as the President and his wife entered.
Delivering his midnight homily, the rector made a reflective appeal.
“Your words can have as much destructive potential as they do healing,” the Rev. James Harlan told the congregation. “God’s word is pure light.”
CNN’s Noah Gray contributed to this report.