President Trump’s daily Twitter feed in recent weeks has been a torrent of personal attacks, news commentary, weather reports, unfounded claims and congratulatory notes. But when it comes to his day job, the American people have seen little of him.
This week, aside from daily intelligence briefings and private lunches with Cabinet members, Trump has only one event on his public schedule — on Thursday he will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Lakers legend and NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West.
Last week, Trump also held just one public event — a Rose Garden ceremony to authorize creation of the U.S. Space Command, a reshuffling of military responsibilities for space operations. He began by announcing he was canceling a planned trip to Poland over Labor Day weekend and would remain in Washington to monitor Hurricane Dorian, which appeared to threaten Florida.
Hunkering down at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., Trump went golfing twice at his private club in Sterling, Va., and fired off more than 100 tweets as Dorian ravaged the Bahamas and shifted course.
Barbara Res, a longtime Trump Organization executive, said Trump appears less active now than when she managed construction projects for him in the 1980s and 1990s.
“He’s working less. He seems to care less about his job now than he did back when I was working for him,” Res said. “Maybe it’s because he has more confidence or a greater sense of power sitting in the Oval Office. He thinks he can say and do anything now, or not do anything.”
She added, “It looks like he’s not even trying, but he thinks he’s trying. To him, all the watching TV and tweeting is work, so he believes he’s on the clock 24-7, 365.”
Leon E. Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff, secretary of Defense, CIA director and director of the Office of Management and Budget under Presidents Clinton and Obama, said Trump’s lack of structured activity reflected the aimlessness in his administration.
“Trump operates the way this hurricane operates,” he said. “There’s a lot of destruction and chaos going on, but no clear path where it’s heading.... It’s very much an ad hoc presidency that relies on his gut instincts rather than any kind of policy process.”
The White House clearly is sensitive to the critique that Trump has slacked off lately, issuing a video montage Tuesday of news clips and other footage highlighting the president’s activities and appearances in recent months, from signing ceremonies to visits with foreign leaders at the White House.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump defended his weekend golfing in a Twitter post, singling out one of the many individuals who had criticized him.
“The incompetent Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was bothered that I played a very fast round of golf yesterday,” Trump tweeted. “Many Pols exercise for hours, or travel for weeks. Me, I run through one of my courses (very inexpensive). President Obama would fly to Hawaii,” he wrote.
Obama mostly played golf at Joint Base Andrews, about 14 miles from the White House. He and his family visited Hawaii, his birthplace, on several winter holidays.
On Monday, a federal holiday, Trump spent more than five hours playing golf or traveling to and from his golf course, leaving the White House at 9:27 a.m. and returning at 2:55 p.m.
According to his public schedule for Tuesday, Trump received a classified intelligence briefing and later met with Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The White House declined to provide details about any other meetings or activities.
The president’s tweets often provide a window into parts of his day not disclosed on public schedules. For instance, last week he tweeted what appeared to be a classified image of an Iranian rocket that apparently blew up on the launchpad, a clear indication that he’d been briefed on the subject. His staff also sent out photos of a hurricane briefing in the Oval Office. And Trump often tweets in response to cable news coverage, telling the public what exactly he’s watching.
Trump spent the first two weeks of August on vacation at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., although he left for fundraisers on Long Island, N.Y., a speech at a Pittsburgh factory and a campaign rally in Manchester, N.H.
He had just three public events in the three days before he left for the Group of 7 summit in France on the evening of Aug. 23: a meeting with the visiting president of Romania, a speech to a veterans convention in Kentucky, and a Medal of Freedom presentation to Bob Cousy, another long-retired basketball great.
Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University in Houston, said that before cable television and air conditioning, presidents would routinely skip town for weeks during Washington’s sweltering summers. Even now, voters tend to give commanders in chief some leeway to recharge their batteries.
“He’s the golfer in chief,” Brinkley said. “Eisenhower liked to golf. So did Obama and other presidents. But Trump simply unplugs.”
Brinkley said there’s no point in Trump using the summer to build momentum to make progress on his legislative or policy agenda.
“He’s not a president trying to build a great congressional record,” he said. “He’s just trying to deregulate and defund government.”
Beyond Twitter, Trump appears to relish the free-flowing gaggles he often holds with reporters on the South Lawn before he leaves the White House on Marine One, so much so that the unscripted sessions have been dubbed “Chopper Talk.”
His new press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, hasn’t held a news briefing in two months in the job, as her boss prefers to speak for himself.
On Friday, she stood outside the Oval Office as Trump held forth with reporters across the lawn, and she simply tweeted a photo of the scene.