An excerpt from Mark Leibovich’s look at D.C. in the Trump era for the New York Times magazine apparently got under President Trump’s skin.
Leibovich describes being asked by Trump’s communications staffer Hope Hicks whether he wants to say hello to the president while he’s interviewing people at the White House. He says that he does, and he’s taken into the president’s dining room.
“It was 12:30,” Leibovich writes, “but the president was not eating lunch. He was watching a recording of ‘Fox and Friends’ from about four hours earlier on a large TV mounted on the wall.”
This comports with other stories about Trump, including one from Time which describes Trump showing reporters that very same television, “sorting through old recordings of cable news shows, until he comes to what he is after.” It comports with his obvious recurring interest in the show “Fox and Friends,” which he’s increasingly embracing as his voice in the media. It agrees, in other words, with much of what we’ve learned about how Donald Trump operates, stretching back to well before his inauguration.
On Wednesday morning, Trump offered a defensive response on Twitter.
The W.H. is functioning perfectly, focused on HealthCare, Tax Cuts/Reform & many other things. I have very little time for watching T.V.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2017
Whether the White House is functioning perfectly is certainly subject to debate. That it is focused on health care and tax reform seems clear, though that focus has so far not generated results.
But that last point is clearly false. Donald Trump likely has an enormous amount of time to watch television, since in recent days he has almost nothing on his public calendar.
We scrubbed White House pool reports to see what Trump has had on his agenda for the month of July. Setting aside last week’s trip to Europe — during which his schedule was genuinely packed — he’s had only a handful of events that he’s acknowledged dealing with.
The gray area there adds up to 5.6 days of unaccounted-for time. Taking out four hours a day for sleep (what Trump claims he spends), and that leaves 82.5 hours that Trump could be watching television.
In total, here’s what we know Trump has done since July 1, excluding his trip to Europe.
- Seven calls with foreign leaders, three of which weren’t reported on his calendar ahead of time.
- One call with Lt. Col. Dick Cole, “the last surviving member of the famed Doolittle Raiders,” the group which bombed Tokyo in 1942, as reported by the White House. It wasn’t on his calendar.
- Three Fourth of July events, including a concert July 1 and a picnic and fireworks viewing July 4. Only the latter two were on his calendar.
- A meeting with his secretaries of the Treasury and Defense and his national security adviser.
He has also probably played five rounds of golf, three of them at his club in Bedminster, N.J. (where he stayed for most of the first three days of the month) and two at his club in Virginia.
That’s it. So far this week, he’s had one meeting on his calendar, plus his planned travel to France on Wednesday evening.
All of that gray area is time when he might be watching television. Or sleeping, or eating, or whatever else a person might do. But the picture Trump hopes to paint of a president so busy that he barely has time to flip through the channels isn’t backed up by the schedule he releases to the public.
Of course, the White House is savvy enough to understand that keeping things vague allows people to fill in the gaps with what they want to believe. If you don’t know what Trump’s doing and you’re inclined to believe him when he says he’s working hard, then you’ll believe that he’s working hard.
It’s the same thing he does with his golf games, listed as “probable” on the chart above. Sure, he is spending days at his golf clubs and traveling from the White House to his course in Virginia, but he’s said in the past that he’s simply taking meetings. And since the media isn’t allowed to see what he’s doing at those private facilities — they’re kept penned up away from the action — if you want to believe that he’s not playing golf, you may believe that. (Until photos of him in golf attire invariably appear on social media.)
This is the strategy. Trump says he’s working and doesn’t say what he’s doing, so it’s hard to rebut him. We’re left, instead, parsing the evidence at hand. And that evidence includes the fact that, over the past three days, Trump has mentioned or retweeted “Fox and Friends” and Fox News on Twitter no fewer than 11 times.
Interpret that how you will.