The problem with Trump's defense of his many golf outings

Trump's golf habit is controversial for reasons he doesn't seem to understand -- so let's take a minute to remind him.
Image: DOnald Trump
President Donald Trump steps out of his vehicle upon his return to the White House after golfing at his Trump National Golf Club in Virginia on June 28, 2020.Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

For a while, as the coronavirus crisis spread in the United States, Donald Trump refrained from golfing. It was easy to understand why: as much of the country made sacrifices in response to the pandemic, it wouldn't have looked great for their president to hit the links.

Those concerns faded once Trump decided it was time to pretend the crisis was over, and as his tweets indicated yesterday, the president is a bit defensive about his renewed interest in his golf habit.

"I know many in business and politics that work out endlessly, in some cases to a point of exhaustion. It is their number one passion in life, but nobody complains. My 'exercise' is playing, almost never during the week, a quick round of golf. Obama played more and much longer rounds, no problem. When I play, Fake News CNN, and others, park themselves anywhere they can to get a picture, then scream 'President Trump is playing golf.' Actually, I play VERY fast, get a lot of work done on the golf course, and also get a 'tiny' bit of exercise. Not bad!"

As regular readers know, I generally don't much care about how any president spends his or her downtime. It's one of the world's most difficult jobs, and if a president wants to unwind by playing golf, so be it.

But Trump's golf habit is controversial for reasons he doesn't seem to understand -- so let's take a minute to remind him.

First, when the president insists that Barack Obama "played more" golf, Trump's obviously lying. It's a weird thing to lie about, especially since the numbers are fairly easy to track down.

Second, Trump's golfing is controversial in large part because of his campaign promises. It's easy to forget, but 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. At an event in New Hampshire in 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, Trump now plays golf far more than his predecessor -- even in the midst of a pandemic.

But let's also not lose sight of the fact that Trump routinely plays -- as he did yesterday -- at his own golf courses, creating a dynamic in which taxpayers end up subsidizing properties the president owns and profits from, as Trump helps promote his businesses.

How much of that money ends up in Trump's pocket is unclear, largely because there's no transparency.

It's the kind of casual corruption that's become a staple of Trump's presidency.