February 23, 2017
I don’t play golf, but this column is a chip shot.
While I’m a tennis and basketball guy, I get that it’s something of an addiction, especially for businessmen, and particularly for presidents.
But I don’t really want to hear that President Trump is spending too much time playing golf. I didn’t want to hear that President Obama spent too much time playing golf. I didn’t want to hear that President Bush spent too much time playing golf.
This is all cheap criticism by partisans on the other side. Presidents are working all the time. It’s important that they be able to relax. Now sometimes business is conducted on the links, but even if they’re just playing 18 holes with their buddies, cut them some slack.
Perhaps Trump’s game is drawing more attention because it’s tied in with his Mar-a-Lago retreats and because he plays at courses that he owns. Or perhaps it’s just because he’s Trump. The Washington Post, after all, once investigated whether he cheats at golf.
“Of the 31 days he has been in office,” the New York Times reported yesterday, “President Trump has spent six of them on a golf course. That amounts to one-fifth of his tenure, including three of his five weekends, as commander in chief.” But can anyone seriously argue that the man isn’t working hard, given the breakneck pace of his first month?
The piece is not overly critical, and notes that one of the president’s outings was with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Ah, but there is the secrecy issue: “The White House goes to considerable lengths to keep Mr. Trump’s golf game away from scrutiny.” The press pool has to cool its heels in a parking lot or in a clubhouse room whose windows and doors are taped with black plastic.
And there was this incident, which surely calls for a special prosecutor: The White House press office had said Trump played “a couple of holes” last weekend in Florida, but it turns out he played the full 18 with Rory McIlroy. Apparently he decided to keep on golfing with one of the world’s top players.
Now there is one point on which Trump is vulnerable, as the Times notes, and a Politico story makes it the lead sentence:
“Donald Trump regularly assailed President Barack Obama for playing golf, then spent the first weekends of his own presidency doing just that.”
In October 2014, for instance, Trump tweeted: “Can you believe that, with all the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter.”
He should get dinged for that. Trump also said last August that as president he wouldn’t have time for golf. Perhaps it’s another case of a new president adjusting to the realities of the office.
Obama played 333 rounds of golf as president, according to CBS’s Mark Knoller, and I don’t recall his supporters being concerned about that. Trump has a long way to go to match that record.
Dwight Eisenhower was seen as obsessed with what was viewed as a rich man’s game, so much so that JFK shielded his golf outings during the 1960 campaign. Bush famously denounced a terror attack to a group of reporters in 2002, then abruptly said “Now watch this drive”—and whacked the ball. The following year Bush gave up golf, out of solidarity with the families of soldiers who were dying in Iraq, he said.
Carping about presidential golf is just like carping about the cost of presidential vacations—a meaningless exercise that is essentially partisan. I’m sure Trump’s critics can find more important matters to club him over the head with.