Forget scenic traditions — Trump vacations in the land of spray tans
WASHINGTON — There’s been an unspoken norm among presidents that their vacations are glamorous, or at the very least, scenic.
In election years, they tend to bow more to the masses. But most other years are set aside for mixing with elites. Listening to foghorns. Strolling on oceanfronts. Yachting, golfing, horseback riding.
President Trump, who delights in thumbing his nose at the country’s cosmopolitan class, is using his first presidential break, which started Friday, to send a fresh version of that message: He’s spending his 17-day summer holiday in New Jersey.
You heard that right: New Jersey.
It’s no Martha’s Vineyard or Kennebunkport. It can’t compare to Hyannis Port, to name the prominent New England playgrounds where modern presidents have gone to unwind. The closest competition for unlikeliest vacation spot is Crawford, Texas, a dusty, brush-generating ranchland where George W. Bush at least evoked the romance and rigor of the American West.
In selecting New Jersey, Trump, a billionaire homebody despite his jet-setting reputation, will settle for the thwack of golf balls and the chirping of birds on his own golf course in a state that conjures spray tans, Snooki, muscle shirts, “The Sopranos,” traffic jams, and toll plazas.
Oh, and those eponymous concrete barriers on the interstate.
Trump will even be able to hear the tractor-trailers from his chosen venue: the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. The seventh hole on one of the club’s two courses is a pitching wedge shot from I-78, a.k.a. the Phillipsburg-Newark Expressway.
The denizens of charming, gray-shingled, salt-splashed New England settings don’t seem to mind at all that Trump has snubbed the region.
“Thank the Lord he chose New Jersey,” gushed John Alley, a Dukes County commissioner who lives on Martha’s Vineyard, where Bill Clinton and Barack Obama returned multiple times during their presidencies. “We’ve had some real presidents here.”
Asked if he would ever vacation in New Jersey, Alley answered quickly: “Hell no. Jersey is a place you pass through to get somewhere else.”
This year, the Vineyard will have to settle for a has-been: Obama is planning to return this weekend with his family.
The presidents best known for vacationing in New Jersey include Ulysses S. Grant, roughly 150 years ago. He acquired a seaside cottage in Elberon and would drive his carriage along the beach, returning every summer of his presidency.
Later, Woodrow Wilson, who served as the state’s governor before becoming president, spent some time at the Shadow Lawn estate.
Grover Cleveland is the only New Jersey native to have been president, but he had the good sense to vacation in his massive manse on Massachusetts’ Buzzards Bay, known as Gray Gables.
In the name of fairness, the Globe sought out New Jersey’s junior senator and asked him to weigh in on the president’s unconventional choice (our descriptor, not his).
“I don’t need to defend New Jersey,” Democrat Cory Booker said. “The facts speak for themselves. One of the biggest industries in New Jersey is our tourism. The Jersey shore is perhaps one of the most famous places.”
Booker gamely steered the conversation from New Jersey’s tourist appeal to national distaste for Boston sports teams. “This is something that needs no defense,” Booker said. “Unlike the Patriots. Unlike the Celtics. Unlike the Red Sox. Which need a lot of defending.”
Not all of New Jersey is as charmless as the notorious Pulaski Skyway or the Meadowlands. There’s Cape May. It’s close to New York City and Philadelphia. Plus there are miles of beaches.
But can we imagine Donald Trump at the beach?
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seems to have the monopoly on that image since he was spotted sunbathing this year on a state beach that was closed due to a state budget standoff.
Modern-day presidential vacations are often fraught with political concerns — so a president really can’t win on this front. Clinton, during his 1996 reelection campaign, skipped golf on the Vineyard and instead headed to Wyoming to visit Yellowstone National Park.
Obama, too, avoided the Vineyard during his 2012 reelection bid and just hung out with the family at Camp David in Maryland.
George H.W. Bush always retreated to Kennebunkport, Maine, where his family has long had a home. And if Jeb Bush had gone further in the presidential election, he probably would have, too. In May 2015, the Globe reported that his parents were building a four-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot “cottage” there for him to enjoy.
It’s hard to imagine Trump gazing over Yosemite Valley (like Theodore Roosevelt), taking a rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho (like Jimmy Carter), or enjoying a horseback ride with his wife (like Ronald Reagan).
But even though Trump’s choice of New Jersey could have some blue-collar appeal, he’s not exactly going lowbrow. The dues at his golf club are $300,000, according to local reports.
Part of the issue is that Trump doesn’t really like vacations.
He has long had a reputation as a workaholic, with former employees saying that he rarely took any extended time off — and that he expected them to follow suit. Asked last year at this time when Trump had last taken a vacation, his spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, responded with a terse e-mail: “Mr. Trump prefers to work.”
“Don’t take vacations. What’s the point?” Trump tweeted in 2012, quoting his own book “Think Like a Billionaire.”
“If you’re not enjoying your work, you’re in the wrong job.”
Trump also has a predilection for staying only at places he owns, which restricts his vacation options. He also has golf courses in Los Angeles, Charlotte, N.C., and Philadelphia, as well as several in Florida and New York.
“I only like to go to places that I own, because, you know, I don’t have enough time,” Trump said in a 2015 interview with The Daily Caller. “What do I want to sit in somebody else’s resort for?”