White House

Trump’s G-7 Scheme Was a Logical Endpoint of the Imperial Presidency

Then-Republican nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign event with his employees at the Trump National Doral golf club in Miami, Fla., October 25, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
What’s surprising is not that he’s tried to revive the style of personal rule, but that no other modern president tried before him.

President Donald Trump is upset that next year’s G-7 summit won’t be held at a hotel and golf club his company purchased in 2012, the Trump National Doral in Miami, as he’d hoped it would be. And he’s tweeted about his displeasure, of course:

But for the dastardly Dems and media, we all could have had this very Trumpy moment. While plans still were under consideration, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney exclaimed the he “was so surprised when the [White House] advance team called back and said that this is the perfect physical location to do this.” Serendipity!

In fact, Trump and Mulvaney may be correct that the Doral is a great space for such an event, which requires a very special kind of security. He’s also not the first president with a desire to meet foreign leaders on his home turf. People whose attention spans are longer than three news cycles may remember that George W. Bush used to entertain foreign dignitaries at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, which was dubbed the “Western White House” for the amount of time he and members of his Cabinet stayed there. Among the leaders who paid the ranch a visit were Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, and Hosni Mubarak.

There is, of course, a key difference between those visits and a G-7 hosted at Trump Doral Miami: While Bush may retain priceless memories of his tête-à-têtes in Crawford, his ranch there is not a commercial lodging. Even if Trump’s hotel was effectively running “at cost” during the G-7, the monies collected for hosting would in fact go toward its long-term operating costs. Not only that, but it is very likely that the hotel would henceforth celebrate and advertise its small role in world history. Stay in the same suite as Angela Merkel, or Emmanuel Macron! Just imagine what Prime Minister Johnson got up to when enjoying a blissful post-Brexit tour in the Boris Boudoir!

Trump’s cancellation seems to show that other elected Republicans can occasionally get him to abandon his instincts and do the right thing — but only when they are willing to venture criticism of him.

On foreign affairs, Trump’s instincts run in the opposite direction of those of his predecessors. They tried to defer to the advice of the expert class in Washington; he tries to defy it. They tended to downplay personal diplomacy and talk instead of enduring national interests; Trump talks about his “perfect phone calls” and “great personal relationships.”

In fact, what is surprising is not that Trump has tried to revive the style of personal rule, but that he is the first modern president to do so. Congress continues to cede authority to the president — trade and foreign policy rarely get even a cursory look over on Capitol Hill anymore. The people campaigning for the presidency are expected by the media and a substantial portion of the populace to be personal, likable, or at least a recognizable and coherent “character” in the life of our republic. For some time we have elected, empowered, and covered presidents as if they were term-limited absolute monarchs who represent the times we live in, and whose whims become law by force of personality. Trump’s offer to personally host the G-7 at one of his own properties takes that attitude to its logical conclusion. We have made ourselves a reality show, if we can bear to recognize it.

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