Invariably, whenever we look at how much time President Trump spends at the golf courses that bear his name, we incur one of two responses — or both.
1. The president is entitled to time off.
2. Why shouldn’t he go to properties that bear his name?
To which the appropriate responses are: (1) He is. However! and (2) For at least one very good reason.
Or, to go into a bit more detail:
Can’t the president take time off?
Sure! The president, like anyone else, is entitled to some down time. And, of course, the president — unlike anyone else — never really gets any. He’s always on duty, always available as needed.
When we point out that Trump is playing a lot of golf (as we did on Sunday), the point isn’t that he should only be either sitting at a desk making presidential decisions or asleep. The point is that Trump himself, piggy-backing on the anti-Barack-Obama Republican rhetoric of the past eight years, repeatedly insisted that — unlike Obama — he wasn’t going to spend time playing golf if he was elected president.
And on and on.
Again, Trump was simply picking up on a line of argument that was common on the right. It seems that for every dismissal of Trump’s golfing as an issue — here from his former campaign spokesman …
Obama played golf about once every 8.8 days. Trump has likely played once every 5.5.
But we don’t really know that, because the Trump White House is unusually coy about when he is or isn’t playing golf. He’s made at least a dozen visits to Trump-branded golf courses (and other Trump properties) since he became president, but we only know for sure that he played golf on some of those occasions.
The White House press office has only confirmed that Trump has played golf on a few occasions, preferring — as press secretary Sean Spicer did last week — to imply that Trump was instead holding important meetings.
On Sunday, Trump spent only a brief period of time at his club in Sterling, Va. — not enough to play a full round.
Usually he’s at his golf clubs and unaccounted for for hours, more than enough time to play 18 holes. (The smart money is on Spicer noting during an upcoming press briefing that Trump visited his club this weekend without playing golf.)
How sensitive are the White House and its allies about Trump’s golfing? It apparently bears a news update from the Trump-friendly Fox News when Trump doesn’t head to his club in Florida for the weekend.
Mind you, this wasn’t true: He almost certainly played golf on Saturday, given social media posts showing him puttering around the course on a golf cart.
We can here apply the parent-of-a-small-child test to Trump’s golfing. If the White House thinks it’s no big deal for the president to play golf, why is it so eager to minimize his doing so?
Why shouldn’t the president go to Trump-branded properties?
The chart above shows the regularity with which Trump heads to Trump-branded properties — doing so about once every three days over the course of his presidency.
Why’s that worth noting? In part because it’s the president using his office to tacitly (if not explicitly) promote his personal business. Trump repeatedly promised a clean break from his personal businesses once he got to the White House, but documents show that he still benefits from the Trump Organization financially. As The Post’s Rosalind Helderman and Drew Harwell wrote last month, “he retains ownership of the business and will personally benefit if the business profits from decisions made by his government.”
Even when he doesn’t directly receive payment, he is still reinforcing a symbiotic relationship with his private brand. Last week, the government approved Trump’s continued ownership of the Trump hotel that sits a few blocks from the White House, because he wouldn’t receive money from it directly while in office. (The Trump Organization leases the building from the government, with the stipulation that no elected official can benefit from it.) Trump critics point out that the property still benefits from its relationship with the president — who has visited the property several times since being elected president, effectively helping to promote the property that his business still operates.
Then there’s the question of how much government money is spent on Trump properties. We’ve looked at this before, estimating that each trip to Mar-a-Lago in Florida costs the government some $2 million. While most of that cost is spent on transportation, the amount that is paid to the Trump Organization isn’t clear. There are reports that the Secret Service and the Department of Defense sought space in Trump Tower, where they would be paying Midtown Manhattan rental costs to the Trump Organization.
Put another way, it’s not less problematic that he’s going to his own properties, it’s more problematic — at least in terms of concerns about potential conflicts of interest. There’s also a prohibition in Article II of the Constitution, setting the president’s salary for a term and stating that “he shall not receive within that period any other emolument” — payment — “from the United States, or any of them.”
In this hyper-partisan age, we are constantly reminded that prohibitions and priorities are far more subjective than we may have thought, allowing someone to, say, rail against a president who plays golf for recreation and then, later, to play golf nearly every weekend of his own presidency. It is also clear that, despite partisan protestations, there is a reason to point out such hypocrisies as well as potential (or obvious) conflicts of interest.
In the future, at least, complaints about the media doing so can be redirected to this article, saving everyone arguing about this issue some modicum of time.