President Trump seems to be getting a bit sensitive about his leisure activities.
When he was a candidate and, before that, an anti-Obama bomb-thrower on social media, Trump repeatedly criticized Barack Obama for hitting the links.
We pay for Obama’s travel so he can fundraise millions so Democrats can run on lies. Then we pay for his golf.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2014
On the campaign trail, he was explicit: Elect Donald Trump as president, and the era of a president who goofs around on the golf course is over.
“I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf,” he said in Virginia last August. Obama has “played more golf than most people on the PGA Tour,” he said on the day before the election in New Hampshire. “What is it, over 300 rounds? Hey, look, it’s good. Golf is fine. But always play with leaders of countries and people that can help us! Don’t play with your friends all the time.”
Now that he’s president? Different tune.
President Trump, second from left, and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe enjoy a round of golf in Florida on Feb. 11. (Jiji Press/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump has on 10 different occasions traveled to golf clubs that bear his name in Florida — one out of every six days he’s been in office. He went Feb. 4 for about four hours. He went on the 5th for the same amount of time. On Feb. 11 and 12 he went, playing 18 holes with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Ernie Els on that Saturday. He went on the 18th and 19th. His press team’s assertion that he just hit a couple of balls on the 19th was undercut when publicists for golfer Rory McIlroy announced that the Irish golfer had joined Trump for 18 holes.
Trump went to his golf club on March 4 and 5, too, with the press office reporting that Trump’s time at Trump International Golf Club on the former occasion was taken up “conducting meetings and taking phone calls.” On each day, the president’s entourage stayed for three and a half or four hours, before heading back to Mar-a-Lago. Trump went to his golf clubs Saturday and Sunday of this past weekend, too. On Saturday, the White House released a statement saying that Trump “spent the early morning and afternoon on issues concerning the Department of Veterans Affairs and the military.” In the not-early morning, he was at Trump International Golf Club, where he posed for this photo.
— Christopher Ruddy (@ChrisRuddyNMX) March 18, 2017
The issue came up during the daily press briefing Monday.
“In his first eight weeks in office, President Trump has made at least 10 trips to the golf course,” Yahoo’s Hunter Walker said to press secretary Sean Spicer. “He regularly used to criticize President Obama for spending time on the course. How is his golf game any different?”
“Well, I think two things,” Spicer replied. “One is I think you saw him utilize this as an opportunity with Prime Minister Abe to help foster deeper relationships in Southeast Asia — in Asia, rather, and have a growing relationship that’s going to help U.S. interests. How you use the game of golf is something that he’s talked about.”
“Secondly, he had a mini-Cabinet meeting two weekends ago down at his club in Virginia, and I remember so many people jumping to the conclusion that he’s going down and playing golf,” Spicer continued. “Just because you go somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean you did it. So on a couple of occasions, he’s actually conducted meetings there, he’s actually had phone calls. So just because he heads there, it doesn’t mean that that’s what’s happening.”
“I know he did meet Prime Minister Abe on the course,” Walker followed up. “But we’re not getting a lot of details on other high-level meetings that are taking place. If he is having these productive meetings on the course, why isn’t the president and his aides being a little more forthcoming about what he’s doing?”
“It’s the same reason that he can have dinner or lunch with somebody and not. … The president’s entitled to a bit of privacy at some point,” Spicer said. “Which is what we’ve always agreed to: We bring the protective pool to be there but the president’s also entitled to a bit of privacy as well.”
So just to run through those excuses:
1. Trump uses golf to foster deeper relationships.
2. Also, just because he’s at a golf course doesn’t mean he’s golfing.
3. Also? It’s none of your business.
Those are not strong rejoinders to Walker’s question. If Donald Trump travels to one of his golf clubs on a weekend morning and spends four hours there, it’s safe to assume that he worked in a round of golf. (Calls and meetings, after all, don’t require leaving Mar-a-Lago.) It’s also safe to assume that Trump’s golfing partners may not always have been people with whom he was deciding the fate of the world, given that one of the few foursomes we know about consisted of Trump, Rory McIlroy, a sports agent and one of Trump’s friends.
Every president is entitled to leisure time. What’s problematic about Trump’s golfing is that he’s spent so much time doing it after pledging to his supporters that he wouldn’t and, secondarily, that he and his team go to such lengths to hide or excuse what he’s doing. What presidents aren’t entitled to is being willfully dishonest to the media — much less to the people who elected them.