“This makes it all worth it.”
That’s what Bill Clinton is supposed to have said as he stepped onto Air Force One for the first time as president. The former Arkansas governor, who previously would have used an Arkansas State Police plane, if anything, for official air travel, was bowled over by the power and comfort of the presidential jet. Like to most U.S. presidents, the luxuries of the office were impressive and alluring.
The same won’t go for Donald Trump if he is actually elected president in 2016. Valued at $4 billion, Trump is an unprecedented candidate not only because of his wealth but in the ostentatious luxury of his private world, which he has actively publicized for decades. Who else but Trump would have hour-long TV specials devoted to his “billionaire lifestyle,” or draw attention to the gold-plated seat-belts on his private plane?
These conspicuous displays are part of Trump’s appeal, but they’re also what make him unlikely to become a member of the Washington social establishment if elected president. After eight quiet years with the Obamas, who set themselves apart from the city’s social scene, a Trump descent on Washington would bring a new level of flash to the capital. But, given Trump’s impatience with New York society, it’s hard to imagine he would pay much heed to the old Georgetown set, or any other Washington social arbiters.
“In my opinion, the social scene in New York, Palm Beach, or anywhere else for that matter, is full of phonies and unattractive people who often have done nothing more than inherit somebody else’s wealth — the Lucky Sperm Club, I call it,” Trump wrote in his 1990 book, “Surviving at the Top.”
By his own account, Trump values quiet and privacy.
“I’m a man with very simple tastes — not in building design, perhaps, but in most other things,” he wrote. “I don’t like rich sauces or fine wines. I prefer, on most nights, to sit in bed with the TV tuned to some movie or sports event and the phone not far away.”
Trump would be the richest president the United States has ever seen, according to historians interviewed for this piece. Coupled with his outsize personality, there’s intense curiosity from historians about possibility of him taking over the White House.
“In some ways, I would be absolutely fascinated if Trump gets elected,” said H.W. Brands, a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. “There is a certain kind of sobering, civilizing effect that being president imposes on people. There is a certain kind of dignity with which you comport yourself. As an observer of the presidency, I have to wonder if Trump would follow that pattern.”
Here in Washington, there are signs that Trump is working to establish a beachhead, regardless of whether he gets elected. The two sprawling presidential suites at his new hotel will offer views of the Capitol and the Washington Monument, along with up to 5,000 square feet of living and working space. The windows? Bulletproof glass.
Of course, if Trump wins, it’ll no doubt cause a kind of earthquake in the D.C. Republican circles now girding against his rise. It’s hard to imagine the triumphant tycoon palling around in that world — George Will dinner party, anyone? — or courting favor from resident conservative opinion-makers, most of whom have actively denounced his candidacy.
So, what would President Trump’s Washington look like? To answer this question, the Post reviewed decades of news clips, magazine profiles and television segments devoted to Trump’s lifestyle in an effort to understand how he might inhabit a town where politics, not money, is the currency.
The answer lies in the real-estate mogul’s practice of personally managing every detail of his world, from the food he eats, to the people he employs, to the places he goes to relax (which usually just means more work). Though it might not be clear to outsiders, Trump prefers to keep all the activity in-house, produced within his own empire. In essence, he is the Trump brand’s number-one customer.
Sources close to the business mogul said he typically spends his spare time in D.C. overseeing the construction of the Trump International Hotel, also known as the Old Post Office Building, or out in Potomac Falls, Va., at the Trump National Golf Club. The Trump family is rarely spotted eating out, socializing or attending events in the city.
When it comes to meals, Trump prefers to indulge his meat-and-potatoes palate at in-house restaurants. He won’t even name a favorite place that does not already belong to him: asked by T magazine in 2008, he listed his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Fla. and the restaurant Jean Georges, located in a Trump property on Central Park West in New York.
“Is there a tourist trap that you actually love?” the magazine asked. “Trump Tower has become a major NYC tourist attraction, and I love the building, if that counts,” he said.
To Trump observers, patronizing and name-checking his own businesses seems both natural and a result of the mogul’s round-the-clock devotion to work, a quality so extreme that it helped to break up his first two marriages. (Notably, Trump wrote that ex-wife Ivana was more socially ambitious than he could tolerate.) His current wife, Melania, seems to keep a schedule independent of Trump’s and rarely appears with him on the campaign trail, devoting time inside to their nine-year-old son, Barron.
While it’s impossible to know for certain, the Trumps seem as if they would live life at the White House much as they already do.
Staff could be brought over from the Trump empire and services brought down from New York, where the family would be expected to spend at least some of their time. As for patronizing D.C. businesses, don’t count on a ton of President Trump’s pictures on local restaurant walls, unless, of course, they belong to him.
— Alice Crites contributed.