The Non-Stop Trump Campaign
Terry H. Schwadron
Nov. 29, 2019
It’s a chicken or egg proposition: Donald Trump has perfected the notion that all public appearances are campaign stops, whether they are official government business or outward political rallies. Either Trump is so volatile that every appearance becomes about politics, or he is doing politics all the time, with moment for governance.
For Trump, an outstanding showman, politics is his job. He even formally announced his campaign for reelection on the first day in office.
That outlook differs from previous presidents. Even though they, too, added official stops on route to outwardly political appearances, but Trump increasingly has blurred the lines.
This week, it was Florida, which turned into a platform literally to call “bullshit” on impeachment processes, and scream about, well, politics, rather than, say, anything about where we as a country are going under his direction. Yesterday, it was a surprise visit to the troops in Afghanistan, where he dutifully served holiday meals before speaking — about himself.
In recent weeks, Trump went to thump votes for gubernatorial candidates in Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana (unsuccessfully in two of the three as it turned out), to the reported opening of an Apple manufacturing facility that had been operating since 2013, an Alabama-Louisiana football game, among others, all turned political events of one kind or another to promote his Wall or to rail at immigrants.
By contrast, you don’t see so many trips to meet with health care professionals about ways to provide more access to health care, for example.
Like me, perhaps you wonder if we taxpayers are underwriting these trips. The New York Times noted that in January, the Government Accountability Office estimated that four trips that Trump took from Washington to his Mar-a-Lago Florida resort in one month cost federal agencies $13.6 million.
If you go by the book — Trump clearly does not — these activities run afoul of the spirit of the Hatch Act, the federal law that prohibits the use of elective office for support of outwardly political activities. Of course, the Hatch Act does not apply to the president himself, in recognition that everything the president does could be seen as contributing to reelection efforts.
The Times noted that while Trump is not subject to Hatch, “everyone who works for him is. Speechwriters and policy advisers who helped prepare those remarks, for example, could be in violation of the act if they were crafting an overtly political speech fir the president.” And the use of Air Force One. And security.
Since Trump never keeps to a script and always ends up talking about himself, elections, opponents and “witch hunts” led by enemies, it is a little difficult to distinguish exactly what is politics and what is the running of the Oval Office on the road.
“In the past, Trump himself has complained about taxpayers shouldering the cost of flying Air Force One when it was used for political purposes (by predecessors),” said The Times. ”Taxpayers are paying a fortune for the use of Air Force One on the campaign trail by President Obama and Crooked Hillary. A total disgrace,” Trump tweeted.
Just how much is spent on these trips is not clear from Federal Elections Commission records, which roll up fund-raising and spending in bigger chunks. But the recent complaints by the mayor of Minneapolis about unpaid bills for overtime police security for Trump political rallies there are an indication that there are issues here.
The Center for Public Integrity reported that at least nine other city governments are still waiting for Trump to pay public safety-related invoices they’ve sent his presidential campaign committee in connection with his political rallies. Some invoices are three years old, totaling at least $841,219.
The government paid for Trump’s epic Fourth of July oration, clearly a political event complete with recruits to come to the speech on the mall and its error-filled references to the Revolutionaries attacking airfields. But the Trump campaign benefited, using the video and photos for campaign purposes.
The idea that there is an official White House agenda about policy, vision, public issues, legislation and the like that is separate from Trump’s own standing in the daily political winds is impossible to delineate.
Separate from all this is the habit of pumping campaign money into Trump-owned properties, worth more than $16 millions between 2016 and 2018, according to ProPublica.
Indeed, increasingly to me, at least, as a close reader of all-things-Trump, it is difficult to tell when he actually handles the actual meat-and-potatoes of governing apart from what you and I would call partisan politics.
At the heart of the current impeachment issue is exactly the notion that the president was abusing his office for personal political gain. At the least, you can easily conclude that leaning on the Ukrainian leader for favors was a violation of campaign financing laws.
From looking at his pattern, it is totally understandable that Trump does not see the difference between governing and self-political promotion.
But the rest of us should.