President Trump knows he needs to change the game. He’s deep in the polling hole and can’t hold any rallies to boost his confidence. In search of an attentive audience and the chance to flaunt his presidential powers, he decamped to his New Jersey golf club to see if he could finally get a ball on the green.
Late Friday afternoon, Trump’s aides called a last-minute press conference, which managed to become a disaster before he even started speaking. Members of his club, who pay extravagant fees to join and many of whom appeared fresh off the golf course, were invited to attend. They gathered, mostly maskless, and not socially distanced, in violation of state laws. After a few rounds of tweet shaming from the press, Trump’s aides handed out masks and urged them to spread apart.
Because Twitter had informed them that the optics were terrible. Not because they were committed to public health best practices. You know how it is.
When it came time for questions, a reporter inquired: “You said that the pandemic is disappearing, but we lost 6,000 Americans this week. And just in this room, you have dozens of people not following the guidelines in New Jersey which say you should not have more than 25 people. So why are you setting a—why are you setting such a bad example, Mr. President, for the country?”
The club members booed.
Trump scoffed that “They don’t have to. This is a political activity.” He hammered on, “It’s a peaceful protest.”
The club members laughed, amused by how droll the president of the United States was. You see, a few weeks ago people—many of them poor or middle-class and decidedly not the kind who join golf clubs—had assembled to demand that armed agents of the government not randomly kill black men and women. The president sent federal agents into this crowd and had them gassed, pelted with rubber shrapnel, and beaten. And now he was saying that, by jove, these very fine golfers are just gathering in their own peaceful protest! Goose, gander, etc.
But the president was not through owning the libs.
“I’d call it ‘peaceful protests’ because they heard you were coming up,” he continued. “And they know the news is fake. They understand it better than anybody.”
At this point, the club members applauded.
For anyone who says that Trump and his supporters are taking coronavirus seriously, I have a golf club membership to sell you. The price of gullibility appears to be around $250,000.
Trump’s team liked his Friday event so much that they scheduled a repeat performance on Saturday. Same venue, same crowd. Only this time, they made it more “presidential.”
After riffing on “Sleepy Joe Biden,” hyping unproven allegations of voter fraud, and bragging about his still unbuilt border wall, Trump announced a series of executive orders. He said he would bypass Congress to defer payroll taxes through the end of the year, provide $400-per-week unemployment benefits, suspend payments on some student loans through the end of the year, and stop renters from being evicted from their homes.
Will these orders actually be implemented? Who can say.
They are likely to be challenged in court because only Congress can authorize spending. This is a tenet of Constitutional Conservatism that you may have heard some Republican here or there mention in the times before Trump.
When asked by a reporter about such legal challenges, Trump said, “If we get sued, it will be someone who doesn’t want people to get the money.”
Are Constitutional Conservatives still bothered by the prospect of a president demolishing the separation of powers as a political stunt? Well, no. Not really. Mitch McConnell more or less shrugged. I mean, hey man, what are you going to do? Binary choice and all that.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus ravages on. And Trump considers his next steps from the resort patio while his adoring members cheer him.
It would be nice to think this is nothing but Trump kicking up a bunch of sand trying to get himself out of the trap. As he grows more frantic in what are likely to be the final days of his presidency we should expect more erratic moves.
Neither President Trump, nor his campaign, nor his supporters are taking the virus or policy measures required to confront it seriously. Masks, social distancing, limits of power?
It’s all optional inside Trump’s club house.