President Donald Trump pauses before signing an executive order about regulatory reform in the Oval Office of the White House February 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump presidency is ‘uniquely defined by his down time’

Updated

Soon after the 2016 election, Donald Trump had a private meeting in the White House with Barack Obama, and the sitting president walked his successor through his daily duties. As regular readers may recall, the Wall Street Journal  noted at the time that Trump “seemed surprised by the scope” of the presidency.

It quickly became obvious that Trump sought a job he knew very little about. He soon after admitted as much, telling Reuters, “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.” He added in an Associated Press interview, “I never realized how big it was.”

The question then became how the nation’s first-ever amateur president would adapt. Would he rise to the challenge, roll up his sleeves, tackle his monumental tasks with vigor, and learn the value of a hard day’s work? By all accounts, no. Axios reported in January that Trump’s official schedule tends to start late and wrap up early, leaving him with an abundance of “executive time” – a charitable euphemism for the time the president spends watching television, making calls, and tweeting.

Politico  reports today on the latest evidence from the Republican’s official schedule, which points to a president who doesn’t appear to be burning the candle at both ends.

As a freewheeling president in one of the world’s most regimented jobs, Trump appears to be redefining the nature of the role. Past presidents were disciplined in their scheduled time, squired from meeting to meeting, event to event, from the moment they arrived in the Oval Office until they headed up to the residence at night.

Trump, by contrast, enjoys huge blocks of unscheduled time in which he can do as he pleases. He is hardly the first president to have an erratic schedule…. But even Trump allies who say the president is always working concede that the Trump presidency is uniquely defined by his down time, when his short-term bugaboos become the drivers of his agenda, rather than any long-term vision.

The reporting points to two unrelated points. The first is that Trump, on a typical day, doesn’t appear to be doing a lot of actual work. Last Tuesday, for example, his official duties took up just over three hours. In contrast, he had nine hours of “executive time.”

Not surprisingly for a post-policy president, this also means, as Politico  added, that Trump’s schedules are “remarkably light on policy discussions.” Last week’s schedule, for example, included just two hours for policy briefings.

The other point is that Trump, by virtue of his erratic schedule, is easily distracted since he has so little focus on substantive work. (He reportedly demands a White House “organized to answer to his immediate impulses.”)

This presidency didn’t start out this way, but Politico  added that Trump “chafed at back-to-back meetings that kept him off his phone and away from the television.”

Whether this dynamic is encouraging or discouraging – would Trump do more bad things if he took his job more seriously? – is a matter of perspective. Either way, presidential descriptions of all the “hard work” he does are very difficult to take seriously.