“You do love your dogs, don’t you?” he said. “I wouldn’t mind having one, honestly, but I don’t have any time. I don’t have — how would I look walking a dog on the White House lawn? Would that be … it feels a little phony-phony to me.”
“A lot of people say, ‘Oh, you should get a dog.’ Why? ‘It’s good politically,’” he continued. “I said, ‘Look, that’s not the relationship I have with my people.’”
Someone in the audience shouted something about President Barack Obama having had a dog, which, to Trump, apparently seemed like sufficient reason for his White House not to.
Despite his claims at that rally, Trump did use dogs as a political and rhetorical tool during his presidency. The context was almost always perceived strength or toughness.
In 2017, he repeatedly touted his pick for defense secretary by referring to him as Jim “Mad Dog” Mattis — a name Mattis didn’t particularly like. People who failed or whom Trump wanted to depict as impotent had “choked like dogs” or were “fired like dogs” or couldn’t be elected dogcatcher. The dogs he liked were ones that caught drug dealers (far better than drug detection technologies, Trump would often say, crediting anonymous law enforcement officials) or the military dog that was credited with trapping the leader of the Islamic State before he killed himself.
Trump recognized the political value in associating with that dog, named Conan. He tweeted a photo of Conan and eventually invited the pup to an odd ceremony at the White House in late 2019.
Eventually, some apparent jealousy seeped into Trump’s constant mentions of Conan.
“In fact, I love dogs, but they gave the dog full credit” for taking out the Islamic State leader, he said at another rally. “They didn’t give me any credit, but that’s okay.”
By 2020, Trump’s discussions of dogs had mostly migrated from praise for Conan to claims that dogs had been sent absentee ballots — part of an early effort to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The day Trump hosted Conan — Nov. 25, 2019 — was the most canine-centric of his presidency. In addition to the Conan event, he welcomed activists to the White House to sign legislation called the Animal Cruelty Prevention Act. Among them was Lauree Simmons, the founder of an organization called Big Dog Ranch Rescue.
By that point, Simmons’s group was robustly entangled in Trumpworld. Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, was involved in the group’s events — events that, since 2014, have spent $1.8 million at Donald Trump’s properties in Florida, according to HuffPost reporting. (The organization disputes that figure.) That includes multiple events at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort in Florida, including one shortly after the 2020 election and one last week.
Trump stopped by that event Friday, giving a brief speech praising the group’s work.
“I was walking and I hear everybody screaming in the ballroom,” he began, apparently to explain why he was stopping by while still wearing golf attire. “I said, ‘What’s going on?’ They said, ‘We’re going to help dogs.’ And that’s okay with me.”
After an aside in which he touted Lara Trump’s apparent interest in running for a Senate seat in North Carolina, he got back to the group’s work.
“What you’re doing is so important. It’s so great and so important. And I’m with you 100 percent,” the former president said. “And we had many meetings in the White House, in the Oval Office having to do with saving and helping dogs. And that’s what we wanted to do.”
The crowd applauded loudly.
“And tremendous progress has been made. We’ve had many meetings actually on it and things that I never even would think is possible in terms of some of the cruelty and the horrible things that happen,” he said. “And we’ve turned them around and made them great things.”
A review of Trump’s calendar as president reveals no other events or meetings focused on dogs or pets. It is certainly the case that Trump’s days were often filled with informal conversations in person and on the phone, some of which may have included discussion of the subject. Simmons did make it to the Oval Office on that day in November 2019, after all.
All of this serves as a neat distillation of Trump’s presidency and what we’re likely to see from him now that he’s out of office: A relationship bolstered by access to Trump’s family and heavy spending at his properties. A celebrity drop-in at a charity event in which Trump takes dubious credit for joining in their fight. A speech focused largely on Trump himself — purportedly stopping by after hearing applause and then basking in it when directed toward him.
Simply put, there’s no evidence that Trump actually shares the group’s concerns about animal cruelty or its affection for dogs. But Trump’s full-time job is again keeping his customers happy, so he leverages his former position in service of that goal.
“I just want to thank you and I hope that you’re having a good time,” Trump said when concluding his speech on Friday. “And I hope the food is good and enjoy yourselves.”
A purer distillation of the Trump approach — good customers getting top-tier treatment and some exaggerated empathy — is hard to imagine.
This article was updated to include Big Dog Ranch Rescue’s denial of the HuffPost report.