On Friday, March 7, Donald Trump stopped by the CDC offices in Atlanta, offered some happy talk about the looming pandemic, and got back on Air Force One. His final destination was easy to predict: the president headed to south Florida, where he spent time on Saturday and Sunday golfing at one of the clubs that bears his name.
As the weekend in March wrapped up, CNN ran a headline that read, "As coronavirus gains a foothold in the nation, it's business as usual for Trump."
More than two months later, as the pandemic's U.S. death toll approached 100,000, Trump didn't go to Florida, but he did go golfing again at one of the venues he still owns and profits from.
President Donald Trump kicked off his Memorial Day weekend by visiting his club in Virginia, marking the president's first time back at one of his private golf courses in 75 days, the longest stretch of his administration without spending time at one.
Democrats wasted little time taking advantage of the political opportunity Trump created. Joe Biden's presidential campaign, acting with surprising speed, unveiled a new 30-second spot, juxtaposing the president hitting the links with the rising number of American fatalities. (As of this writing, it has over 4 million views on Twitter.) Around the same time, American Bridge, a leading Democratic super PAC, unveiled a 45-second video of its own.
It didn't take long for Trump to get defensive about all of this.
As we've discussed before, I generally don't much care how any president spends his downtime. It's one of the world's most difficult jobs, and if a president wants to unwind on a golf course, so be it.
But whether Trump realizes this or not, his unique circumstances make his recreational choices difficult to ignore.
First, one of Trump's most common complaints about Barack Obama's tenure was the frequency with which the Democrat played golf. The Trump Twitter Archive shows the Republican whining about his predecessor's golfing over and over and over and over and over again. The implication seemed to be that Americans should perceive Obama as lazy and easily distracted.
It led Candidate Trump to assure voters he'd govern far differently, effectively running on an anti-golfing platform. At an event in New Hampshire in February 2016, while again complaining about Obama golfing, Trump declared that if he were in office, "I'd want to stay in the White House and work my ass off." It's a vow he repeated several times.
And yet, at comparable points in their respective terms, Trump has now spent quite a bit more time at golf clubs than Obama did.
What's more, while the hypocrisy is jarring, Obama wasn't playing golf at venues he personally owned and profited from. Trump, however, is playing at his own courses, creating a dynamic in which taxpayers end up subsidizing the president's properties, while he promotes his private business for other prospective customers. (How much of that money ends up in Trump's pocket is unclear, largely because there's no transparency.)
But even if we're willing to look past corruption and hypocrisy, we're left with the concern that golfing in the midst of a deadly crisis looks bad - according to Donald Trump. In fact, it was in 2014, when there were a grand total of two Ebola cases in the United States, when the New York Republican appeared on Fox News to complain that it "sends the wrong signal" for a president to play golf in the midst of public-health concerns.
He added at the time that Obama should have given up golf as president "to really focus on the job."
In other words, according to Trump's own standards, Trump is doing something wrong.