It was one of the first bits of routine to come out of the Trump White House -- Trump boarding Marine One and toddling off to his opulent club in Florida, Mar-a-Lago. Not many months ago, Trump was joining the rest of the right-wing in criticizing President Obama's travel. Now he's running up a travel bill that promises to dwarf that of his predecessor. But the expense to taxpayers is only part of the reason Trump's visits to his so-called "Southern White House" need to stop, or at the very least be severely curtailed.
The cost for each trip that has been tossed around in the media is $3 million. But on Wednesday the Associated Press decided to fact-check that number. They say that a conservative group (assumed to be Judicial Watch, but the article isn't clear about the source) puts the amount per trip at closer to $1 million. That number seems dreadfully low given that the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Department alone estimates it costs them $60,000 per day just to pay overtime for officers when Trump is in town. And Trump's trips are always at least two day affairs.
But let's assume it is correct, and Trump's weekend getaways only cost one-third of what everybody is saying. In ten weeks as president, Trump's travels still will have cost taxpayers in the neighborhood of $7 million. The accepted figure for Obama's travels is about $97 million over eight years, or just over $12 million each year on average. At his current rate Trump will blow through that number by the middle of the year, if not sooner.
During the campaign Trump promised he would spend most of his time in Washington.
You know what – and I love golf – but if I were in the White House, I don’t think I’d ever see Turnberry again, I don’t think I’d ever see Doral again, I own Doral in Miami, I don’t think I’d ever see many of the places that I have.
"I don’t ever think that I’d see anything, I just wanna stay in the White House and work my ass off, make great deals, right? Who's gonna leave? I mean, who's gonna leave?"
We now know the answer to that one.
The expense related to Trump's Mar-a-Lago visits is only part of the problem. When Trump meets a foreign leader at a Trump property, it makes America look like some kind of third world dictatorship, with a president who takes great delight in showing off his personal wealth, especially to his perceived enemies. Trump has met several European and Middle Eastern leaders in Washington. But when it came time to fete the president of China, a major economic competitor and a target of much Trump criticism during the presidential campaign, that took place at Mar-a-Lago.
The whole thing felt like a modern day "Game Of Thrones." "See how powerful I am, President Xi? All of this belongs to me. Not to the United States of America. It belongs to ME. And while we're eating our beautiful chocolate cake, I'll show you how really powerful I am by shoving a bunch of cruise missiles up Assad's ass."
So yes, the expense of his Mar-a-Lago weekends is a concern as Trump's administration continues to float plans to cut everything from PBS to Meals On Wheels. But at the same time we need to consider the message that is coming out of holding important meetings at Mar-a-Lago or other Trump properties. He is blending the Trump brand with the American brand, and appears to be advancing the idea that the Trump brand is the more important and powerful of the two. How long will it be before he echoes Louis XIV and publicly declares "L'état c'est moi?"