He golfs. He schmoozes by the pool. He eats dinner with friends.
Just don’t call it a vacation.
For President Donald Trump, the long-standing image of a leader in repose doesn’t apply, at least in his own mind. In New Jersey this week, events were arranged to demonstrate his extended stay at a wooded golf resort was, in fact, work. A lengthy list of necessary renovations underway at the White House was produced to explain the President’s absence from the West Wing. And a small wooden table, affixed with a presidential seal, was lugged along in case something must be signed.
Long a critic of his predecessor’s leisure habits, Trump has gone out of his way to insist, in public and in private, that spending weeks away from Washington isn’t what it looks like. Unlike his predecessors, who didn’t shy away from the “vacation” label, Trump has adopted the notion that time off is time wasted.
It’s not a new sentiment.
“Most of the people I know that are successful really don’t take vacations. Their business is their vacation,” Trump told CNN host Larry King in 2004. “I rarely leave. You know that.”
In fact, Trump often leaves the White House for his private clubs. He’s now spent more than 180 days of his presidency at one of his properties. Aides are loath to say he’s golfing, even though Instagram shots show that he seldom misses a day on the links.
Steady stream of visitors
In many ways, however, the days Trump has spent here in New Jersey horse country do mimic the working style he cultivated over years as a real estate impresario. Daily descriptions of the President’s day released by the White House list all of his phone calls, including to his staff back in Washington and Vice President Mike Pence.
Unlike past presidents, who craved solitude in their time away from the White House, Trump has invited a steady stream of visitors to his brick colonial Bedminster clubhouse.
Fox News hosts, corporate titans and deep-pocketed political donors have paraded through. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani – fresh from dashing off another letter to special counsel Robert Mueller spelling out parameters for a presidential interview – was a guest at dinner on Thursday.
On Sunday, the President and Sen. Lindsey Graham played a round of golf before sitting down for dinner with the first lady, Fox News host Sean Hannity and conservative radio stalwart Mark Levin – ardent supporters who the President regularly consults by phone.
Later, Graham joked the President’s fixation on the Russia investigation hadn’t softened on his non-vacation.
“He must have mentioned that about 20 times,” Graham said during an appearance in his home state of South Carolina.
On each subsequent night, the President has convened dinners with powerful groups of visitors, including hosting two political fundraisers he wouldn’t be allowed to have at the White House. On Tuesday, corporate titans from some of the country’s largest firms were summoned – some from their own vacations – to dine with the President and his family.
“So many of you I know, and others I just read about on the covers of all of the business magazines,” Trump said by way of introduction. There was no set agenda for the lobster-and-beef-tenderloin meal; during dessert the CEOs pressed the President on immigration.
Trump was back in front of cameras on Thursday, convening a roundtable focused on prison reform after playing a round of golf. The White House flew in five governors, two state attorneys general, two Cabinet secretaries and eight senior administration officials to participate; turns out, a working vacation for Trump is just regular work for his underlings.
“They’re renovating the White House. It’s a long-term project and they approved it years ago. I said, ‘Well, I guess this would be a good place to be in the meantime,’ ” Trump said in explaining his backdrop.
“I miss it. I would like to be there,” he said of his home in Washington. “But this is a good way of doing it.”
Trump’s habit of insisting that his weeks spent away from the White House don’t amount to vacations wasn’t shared by his recent predecessors.
Aides to President Barack Obama made no attempts to cast his getaways to Martha’s Vineyard or Hawaii as anything but vacations, claiming he would return refreshed and rested. George W. Bush would clear away brush on his Crawford ranch under the broiling Texas sun for much of August, rarely bashful of being away. George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan set an even higher bar for vacationing, from the Bush compound at the seaside Walker’s Point in Kennebunkport, Maine, to Reagan’s beloved ranch in the Santa Ynez Mountains of California.
That isn’t to say work wasn’t committed on Obama’s island getaways. Severe weather, financial crises, terror attempts, racial unrest and untimely deaths all interrupted Obama’s summer and winter holidays.
Trump hasn’t confronted those types of unanticipated events during his summer stay in Bedminster, though he’s regularly dealt with national security matters from his Palm Beach club. When North Korea fired a ballistic missile early in his presidency, Trump turned the patio at Mar-a-Lago into an open-air situation room.