President Donald Trump is back at Mar-a-Lago again, spending millions of taxpayer dollars for another weekend at his 126-room beachfront palace. Many of his critics will roll their eyes, cluck their tongues and wring their hands.
But I say: Get over it. The president’s entitled to his weekend escapes – whenever and wherever he wants.
Yes, Trump’s trips to his gilded retreat cost too much – at least $2 million per trip for transportation alone, according to a conservative accounting by the Washington Post.
Yes, the Mar-a-Lago Club is a business that provides income to Trump’s family firm; only last month, the Florida Republican Party paid roughly $150,000 to rent the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom.
Yes, the president’s willingness to schmooze with wealthy members who paid $200,000 to join is unseemly.
And yes, the cost of Secret Service protection (plus Coast Guard gunboats) is gargantuan – especially when you add the cost of securing Melania Trump’s Manhattan redoubt and the president’s globetrotting entrepreneurial children.
But what’s the alternative? The president’s family needs protection. If one of his progeny were kidnapped, it would plunge us into a hostage crisis – a test of presidential temperament we shouldn’t risk.
Indeed, I'll take the national security argument one step further. The presidency is a high-pressure, seven-day-a-week job. Trump’s entitled to spend his time wherever he wants. If he’s most comfortable in buildings with his name on the gate (and that was true even before he was president), that’s up to him.
Last month, I ran into a Republican fundraiser just back from Mar-a-Lago. It had been a bad week for the president; his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had just recused himself from the FBI investigation into Trump campaign links to Russia. Trump was said to be furious, seething.
How was he at dinner? I asked.
“He was in a great mood,” my Republican friend replied. “He always seems happy when he’s there.”
So which Donald Trump do you want: the frustrated autocrat, seething with fury in Washington – or the beaming bon vivant, presiding over his favorite dining room?
There’s a legitimate question about club members getting privileged access to the president – but Trump is going to hang out with rich people and corporate executives somewhere; it might as well be his own club.
If anything, Trump critics should be happy about the president’s Florida habit – because it looks so bad for him. It looks callous when Trump submits a budget proposal that eliminates the Interagency Council on Homelessness ($4 million a year) and heads out for another $2-million weekend.
And last week, the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, agreed to look into the costs of Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago, including whether the government is being charged a fair rate for its use of part of the property.
For the same reason, critics should also celebrate Trump’s frequent rounds of golf. Trump, as is well-known, frequently criticized Barack Obama for playing too often.
“I’m going to be working for you,” he promised voters in Virginia last year. “I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”
And yet he’s visited golf courses at least 12 times in his first 10 weeks in office.
Even better than such hypocrisy – from a critic’s standpoint – is Trump’s bizarre and self-defeating attempt at a cover up. When the president approaches a course these days, Trump’s aides keep the press away so reporters can’t see what he’s doing.
“Just because you go somewhere doesn’t necessarily mean you did it,” press secretary Sean Spicer semi-explained. “On a couple of occasions, he’s actually conducted meetings there.”
Alas, other golfers have innocently posted photographs of Trump with club in hand, bursting the cocoon of official secrecy.
Will Trump’s golf hurt the country? No. Will it help Trump’s adversaries? If they know an opportunity when they see one.
Trump-haters should relax about his vacation retreats, where he sins in plain sight. What they should worry about is what the president and his aides are doing out of sight – the hidden regulatory changes, backroom deals and conflicts of interest that will be harder to bring to light.
Doyle McManus is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Reach him by email at email@example.com.