Sometimes it takes a year or more for a president’s strengths to come into focus. In Donald Trump’s case, it is now clear that he excels whenever he bestows upon us the honor of his absence.
As Senator John McCain battles cancer at his home in Arizona he has sent word that President Trump will not be welcome at his funeral. Mike Pence is O.K., but not the man who said McCain wasn’t much of a hero because he allowed himself to be captured by enemy soldiers during the Vietnam War.
So, when a grateful nation says goodbye to McCain at Washington’s National Cathedral, Trump will no doubt make some excuse about why he can’t attend. He’ll probably be off playing golf, as he was in April during services for the beloved former First Lady Barbara Bush. Trump said via Twitter that he did not want the security measures required for his presence to be disruptive.
That’s an odd concern, considering the fact that no family in American history has spent more time dealing with the Secret Service than the Bushes. Besides, Mrs. Bush’s funeral was attended by Presidents Clinton, Obama, Bush 41 and Bush 43, as well as the properly dignified and nondisruptive Melania Trump.
Lame excuses notwithstanding, Trump plays the RSVP card masterfully.
A few weeks ago he declined to attend the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, preferring to hide out at a rally in Michigan while comic Michelle Wolf unleashed a barrage of anti-Trump jokes. Some found Wolf’s act to be unsavory including, presumably, the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, who was stuck taking Trump’s place on the dais.
The president knew exactly what he was doing by staying away and playing the victim.
Trump artfully decided against throwing out the first pitch when the Washington Nationals held their home opener on April 5th. Every president since Taft has thrown out a ceremonial first pitch for at least one baseball game - except Trump.
His absence even forced the Nationals to cancel the traditional military flyover because the president’s impending travel in the opposite direction made the area restricted airspace. Small price to pay to avoid a chorus of boos.
Last December, Trump skipped the Kennedy Center Honors after some honorees and performers threatened a boycott. Sarah Sanders explained that Trump was afraid of causing a “political distraction.”
As Trump discovers that his poll numbers actually inch up the more he stays out of sight, there’s no limit to what he might accomplish. A major test will come this fall in the midterm elections.
Will Trump campaign for Republicans in tightly-contested states such as Nevada, Arizona and Florida? What if he shows up and spends all his time ranting about Hillary Clinton, Robert Mueller and Fake News?
Trump’s best chance to help the GOP and himself would be to skip all campaign events, citing concern about disruptions and distractions. Then, he might want to skip the World Series, the annual White House Christmas party and, by next January, he might even consider boycotting his own State of the Union speech.
Trump is like T.S. Elliot’s Macavity: he’s broken every human law; he breaks the law of gravity. You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air, but when you reach the scene of crime, Macavity’s not there!
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.