Yesterday morning, Donald Trump delivered some brief remarks alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ahead of a closed-door meeting. According to the White House's transcript, the American president began his remarks, "I just want to say that your representatives look right out of a movie. You're absolutely perfect. So I think that's very nice. I'm very impressed."
Trump's preoccupation with "central casting" is well-documented, but sometimes it goes in uncomfortable directions.
Yesterday afternoon, Trump and Abe spoke briefly to reporters from Mar-a-Lago, where the American president seemed eager to do a little infomercial for the venue he continues to profit from.
"Many of the world's great leaders request to come to Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach. They like it; I like it. We're comfortable. We have great relationships. As you remember, we were here and President Xi of China was here. [...]"It is, indeed, the Southern White House. And again, many, many people want to be here. Many of the leaders want to be here. They request specifically."
I'm skeptical that foreign leaders have specifically requested visits to the president's Florida club, but I'm not in a position to know for sure. It certainly seems like the sort of thing Trump would blurt out because he would like it to be true, but anything's possible.
What's more jarring is the fact that the president continues to use his office to promote a private resort that puts money in his own pocket.
Indeed, it is by no means a Southern White House. As we discussed last year, Nixon's California home came to be known as the "Western White House," and Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush spent a considerable amount of time during their presidencies at their respective ranches, but in each of those cases, presidents had private properties where they had private homes.
Trump's business operation, on the other hand, now charges $200,000 a person to join a club where members can gain access to the president, members of his team, and a front-row seat to foreign-policy talks with international heads of state.
As Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the transparency advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, put it a few months ago, "George W. Bush went to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, a lot, but it's not like you could rent the bedroom next to his."
Alas, this isn’t exactly new. Circling back to our earlier coverage, I’m reminded anew of this New York Times piece, which noted that Team Trump has created “an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists.”
… Mr. Trump’s weekend White House appears to be unprecedented in American history, as it is the first one with customers paying a company owned by the president, several historians said.“Mar-a-Lago represents a commercialization of the presidency that has few if any precedents in American history,” said Jon Meacham, a presidential historian and Andrew Jackson biographer. “Presidents have always spent time with the affluent,” he added. “But a club where people pay you as president to spend time in his company is new. It is kind of amazing.”
And it’s not just Trump. Those who pay the $200,000 membership fee also, evidently, get access to powerful cabinet secretaries and even receive front-row seats to see officials respond in real time to national security challenges, conducted in full view of civilians.
The club’s managing director conceded to the Times that Trump’s presidency “enhances” club membership – which may help explain the increase in entrance fees – adding, “People are now even more interested in becoming members.”
If you voted Republican because you were worried about Hillary Clinton and pay-to-play controversies, I have some very bad news for you.