Editor’s Note: Mark Weinberg is a communications consultant, speechwriter and the author of “Movie Nights with the Reagans” (Simon & Schuster). He served as special assistant to the President and assistant press secretary in Ronald Reagan’s White House, and as director of public affairs in former President Reagan’s office. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
President Donald Trump is taking all of his adult children along for his state visit to the UK, according to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, who tweeted the news. This means that Trump’s children may be having dinner with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. The scene would be reminiscent of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” where Granny, Jed, Jethro, and Elly Mae all piled into a dilapidated pick-up truck and moved into a mansion once they struck oil.
Such antics may have been amusing on television, but are hardly appropriate for a President of the United States. It’s one thing for the President to want to share his extraordinary experiences with his family – and he does that in spades every day by having his daughter and son-in-law on his senior staff – but piling all the grown Trump kids onto the taxpayer-funded plane so they can have their picture taken with the Queen is simply bad form.
During my years on the Reagan White House staff, I saw how the President and Nancy loved having their children with them, but it would never have occurred to them to have Michael, Maureen, Patti or Ron join them on state visits abroad. In fact, when Ron was in Geneva during his father’s first summit with Mikhail Gorbachev, former President of the former USSR, Ron was so as a credentialed reporter – a writer for a magazine – not a member of the first family, and spent almost all of his time in the press center working.
The Queen has met every US President since Harry S. Truman, with the exception of Lyndon B. Johnson.
The relationship between the House of Windsor and occupants of the White House has ranged from respectful cordiality to true friendship. While historians writing about the Reagan presidency always mention the close relationship he had with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the truth is that the Reagans’ friendship with Queen Elizabeth II was even more extraordinary.
It began when the Reagans first came to Washington and lasted for many years after they left the White House. The Queen even conferred an Honorary Knighthood on the former President. The Reagans were not attracted to the Queen’s palaces, jewels or fame. They liked and admired her for who she was as a person – a down-to-earth woman who understood and doggedly fulfilled the role to which she was born, was happiest away from the glitz and glamour of royal trappings, and who had a keen sense of humor.
Whenever they got together – whether at a formal dinner in Windsor Castle, aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, or lunch at the Reagans’ California ranch in the midst of a record downpour – the Queen, Prince Philip, and the Reagans always got on quite well. President Reagan even remarked about the relationship in a handwritten entry in his private diary on June 5, 1984. Describing their lunch with the Queen and Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace as “warm and pleasant,” he also said: “They are both nice and she is an outstanding human being.”
While he liked many of his colleagues, I do not recall him ever referring to any other leader that way.
As a former President while visiting London, Ronald Reagan was asked to participate in a Buckingham Palace-sanctioned documentary about Queen Elizabeth II. He readily agreed. Arrangements were made for him to videotape a brief segment from a room at the venerable Claridge’s Hotel, into which a television crew had loaded lights, cameras and other equipment. As usual before such events, I prepared a briefing paper giving him some background on the event, which included notes about logistics and suggested “talking points” for his use.
I gave it to him a short while before the taping was scheduled to begin. He looked at it ever so briefly, smiled, and handed it back to me, saying: “Oh, Mark, thank you for this, but I know what I want to say about Her Majesty. My golly, she and her husband have been such good friends to Nancy and me over the years; I just hope I don’t go on too long.” I asked him if he was sure, he said he was, and then he told me what he planned to say: “You have to remember this about the Queen. Unlike me, she did not ask for the role she was given. She was born into it. She had no choice. And unlike the job I had, hers doesn’t end. Ever. But she accepted it with such grace and has been such a remarkable leader for so many years, in good and bad times, and without a misstep. All the while she raised four children. Oh, and by the way, she’s pretty good on a horse.”
That last part was what resonated most with Ronald Reagan and formed the special bond they shared. Usually when President Reagan was with the Queen, their conversation turned to the subject of raising and riding horses. You could see their eyes light up when they compared notes about grooming, saddles, gaits, canters, and all matters equestrian. (Us non-horse people in the room would look at each other, smile, nod knowingly, and then talk about the weather.)
Almost without fail, after leaving office, when Reagan was asked what he enjoyed most about his years as President, he included the horseback ride with the Queen at Windsor Castle. He was told Her Majesty felt the same way.
It may seem unlikely that a boy born to a poor family, the son of a shoe salesman and homemaker who lived in a tiny apartment on the second floor of a nondescript commercial building in the heartland of America, and a girl born to a Royal Duke and Duchess in the elegant splendor of a townhouse that would soon be replaced by palaces and castles, became true friends. After all, he got where he did by working for it and being chosen by the people. She was born into it. But that didn’t matter. They may have initially found common ground in riding horses, but much more importantly, they loved their respective nations, considered it a true privilege to lead, and found true joy in serving their people.
Even though state dinners at Buckingham Palace are hardly “the more the merrier” affairs, there is no doubt the Queen, as always, will be unfailingly gracious and welcoming to all of the Trumps who come to dinner, despite the fact that Trump called her granddaughter-in-law “nasty” and then lied about it. Yet one can only wonder what thoughts will be in the crowned one’s head that night.