After a jaw-dropping week destined for the time capsule — featuring the “Don’t be a fool!” missive to Turkey’s president, a Speaker of the House standoff worthy of a Renaissance painting and a quid-pro-oh-yeah admission on Ukraine — we should start at the golf course.
The White House announced Thursday that the June 2020 G-7 summit would be held at the Trump Doral resort outside Miami, which, you should know, has four championship-level golf courses and a 48,000-square-foot spa. That means the leaders of six major world powers, plus their entourages, would be paying a company owned by the seventh. At this point, with no incentives left for Trump and those around him to play by any rules, why not?
Except, this move was so brazen it crossed a line. On Saturday night, Trump pulled an exceedingly rare move: He backed off. He said Doral will no longer be considered as a G-7 site, with a tweet blaming the reversal on: “both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility.”
The news tornado is all part of the same story, the merging of the official, the personal and the political for the man in the Oval Office.
The Trump Organization remains a walking conflict of interest. There are the hundreds of government officials, members of Congress and political groups that have spent money at Trump properties. There’s Trump suggesting Vice President Mike Pence stay at his resort in Ireland, even though it’s way out of the way for his meetings. There are the governments like Saudi Arabia spending lavishly at Trump properties — which at least is a voluntary way to curry favor. But essentially using the power of the U.S. government (as the rotating host of this gathering) to make foreign governments pay him was too much for even many allies to bear.
Because it’s privately held — by the president himself, in defiance of ethics rules — it’s hard to know just how the Trump Organization has done during the Trump presidency. It’s lost plenty of business, no doubt, and the brand now means something entirely different than it did before The Donald came down the escalator in 2015. The Washington Post reported that net income at the Doral resort fell by 69 percent from 2015–17, which company officials blamed on Trump’s damaged personal brand.
But the branding maven in the White House knows that hosting world leaders and the world media is boffo advertising for the resort. Whose glossy brochure doesn’t look better with Emmanuel Macron on it? Isn’t it worth a few extra bucks to stay in a presidential suite that was actually a presidential suite?
So what explains Trump’s reversal? Certainly not criticism from the media and Democrats, which he relishes. No, the president has his eye on his quivering Republican firewall — with some congressional GOPers looking less willing to defend him.
Each day, leaked bits of impeachment testimony deliver new insight into how Rudy Giuliani made America’s foreign policy into an arm of the Trump 2020 campaign. And then there’s Syria. After Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Ankara, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to a five-day cease-fire that gives him essentially what he wanted to start with: a safe zone bordering Turkey and the departure of the Kurds. And Trump, after removing U.S. troops and allowing the slaughter, is taking credit for solving the problem. “Sometimes you have to let them fight like two kids in a lot,” he told a rally crowd in Texas on Thursday night. “You got to let them fight and then you pull them apart. But it was unconventional, but they fought for a few days and it was pretty vicious.”
The news tornado is all part of the same story, the merging of the official, the personal and the political for the man in the Oval Office: Trump is America, and America is Trump. As White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said, when talking about the mixing of political interests in Ukraine policy: “Get over it.” The attitude is central to Trump’s cynical reelection argument.
But even in these cynical times, when Trump is expected to use every lever of power available to his personal advantage, there are limits. At least, until the next tweet.