Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh uttered the word “beer” 29 times before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. “I liked beer,” the federal judge testified. “I still like beer.”
“I don’t drink beer,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “I’ve never had a beer. And I’m not saying good or bad, some people like it. I just choose not to do that for a lot of reasons.”
A day earlier, Trump told reporters that his abstinence from alcohol was “one of my only good traits.”
Though Trump has been defending Kavanaugh in public, he has told confidants in recent days that he does not like the focus on his nominee’s drinking habits, according to advisers.
“The president doesn’t like drinking, and so Kavanaugh talking about how much he likes beer put Trump off,” said one person close to the White House who was briefed on the president’s private conversations and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the president’s views. “It’s not disqualifying or anything serious, but he doesn’t like drinkers.”
The image of Kavanaugh as a debaucherous fraternity brother is settling in. On NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” — whose comedy sketches earn Trump’s notice, even as he claims to not watch them — actor Matt Damon portrayed Kavanaugh as addicted to “brewskis” and capped off his mock Senate testimony by shotgunning a can of water.
For a high-profile chief executive, Trump is unusually uninhibited and unconstrained. In many aspects of his life, he creates chaos and, at times, careens out of control. But a rare area of self-discipline is his alcohol consumption — or lack thereof.
Despite the image Trump has cultivated of himself as an uber-wealthy playboy who used to party at New York’s legendary Studio 54, the president is a proud teetotaler who says he has never had a drink, smoked cigarettes or consumed drugs.
“Whenever they’re looking for something, I’m going to say, ‘I never had a glass of alcohol,’ ” Trump told reporters Monday. “Can you imagine, if I had, what a mess I’d be? Would I be the — I’d be the world’s worst.”
Longtime associates say Trump likes to have absolute control over his situation — always — and is afraid of losing his inhibitions. And they say he has a high level of disregard for those who do, viewing them as weak.
“One of the primary reasons I think Trump avoided alcohol was that he never wanted to be out of control,” said Tony Schwartz, co-author with Trump of “The Art of the Deal,” a 1987 bestseller. “It made him feel weak and vulnerable in any circumstance where he felt that was the risk.”
But Trump’s views on alcohol also are inspired by the experience of his older brother, Fred, an airline pilot who struggled with alcoholism and died at age 43 in 1981.
“I think he’s scared of the effects alcohol can have on people because he witnessed firsthand how it destroyed his brother’s life, and I think he’s a teetotaler because he’s scared of it in himself,” said Tim O’Brien, author of the biography “TrumpNation.” “He’s essentially Mr. Id, and if Mr. Id became an alcoholic, all bets are off.”
Though Trump competed with Fred for their father’s attention and had a rocky relationship with his brother, the president has said one of the saddest moments of his life was Fred’s death.
“I had a brother, Fred. Great guy, best-looking guy, best personality — much better than mine,” Trump said last year at a White House event focused on the opioid crisis. “But he had a problem. He had a problem with alcohol. And he would tell me: ‘Don’t drink. Don’t drink.’ ”
O’Brien said, “I think Freddy’s journey sparks fear in the president, and it’s a tragedy in their family’s history, and both of those things make him very uncomfortable around people with a drinking problem.”
One former White House official explained that Fred’s alcoholism had such a profound impact on Trump as a younger man that he responds viscerally to drinking.
“He generally doesn’t want to moralize, but on the issue of alcohol, he is just hardcore,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment.
Trump, however, does not enforce abstinence for those around him — and in fact has tried to profit off adult beverages. The Trump Organization owns a winery in Virginia, and Trump once promoted a Trump-brand vodka, which he said was designed to compete with the top-shelf brand Grey Goose.
“What we’re trying to do is top it,” Trump enthused in a 2006 interview with CNN’s Larry King. The brand was discontinued in the United States in 2011.
Many on the president’s staff, as well as those who worked on his campaign, are also social drinkers who can often be found — beverages in hand — at the Trump International Hotel in the District or grabbing off-the-record drinks with reporters.
Among the notable exceptions is Vice President Pence, who has said he won’t attend events with alcohol without his wife by his side and who keeps Air Force Two free of alcohol.
Speaking about Kavanaugh to reporters Monday, Trump jokingly noted that there are “bad reports on everybody in here,” before specifically holding his vice president apart. “Except for Mike Pence, by the way,” Trump said. “And if we find one on him . . . that’ll be the greatest shock of all time.”
Yet, in ways both overt and subtle, the president has made no secret of his disdain for alcohol and those who abuse it. In a 2010 interview with King, Trump turned to his then-4-year-old son, Barron, and offered clear advice for his older years: “No drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes.” In later interviews, Trump has said that he delivered the same strict rules to his older children and that daughter Ivanka would tell him, “Dad, you’re driving me crazy.”
“I’ve seen people that have very smart children. When they go bad on drugs or alcohol — and I add cigarettes in there — but when they go bad, these kids are wiped out,” Trump said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in 2015. “Doesn’t matter how smart. The world is so competitive that you can’t lose that extra percentage.”
Trump said he once lost respect for a powerful banker, whom he did not name, after the man appeared inebriated during a speech before a couple thousand people at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.
“I see him today, and I just don’t feel the same way,” Trump told CNN’s Piers Morgan in 2011. “We carried him out. He was stone-cold drunk in a big dinner.”
At the White House opioid event last year, the president also explained that he has trouble empathizing with friends who “are having difficulty with not having that drink at dinner” and perhaps struggling with alcohol.
“I say to myself, ‘I can’t even understand it,’ ” Trump said. “Why would that be difficult?”
And on Monday, when asked by reporters whether he had concerns about Kavanaugh’s mischaracterizing his youthful drinking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the president took the question — about his nominee’s credibility — and turned it into one about alcohol use.
“I was surprised at how vocal he was about the fact that he likes beer,” Trump said. “And he’s had a little bit of difficulty.”
Speaking at a political rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night, the president even dismissively implied that a Democratic senator — citing the senator by name, with no evidence — may have a drinking problem.
At a luncheon last month for the United Nations General Assembly, red wine was served to the assembled world leaders — but not to the U.S. president. To toast his peers, Trump held up a wine glass. It contained Diet Coke.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.