ANALYSIS | Where’s POTUS? Donald Trump has gone dark — again. But past is typically prologue with this president, meaning his media blackout is unlikely to last much longer.
His public schedule, as released each day by the White House, has offered few clues. Missing are the usual short lists of meetings with lawmakers, conservative leaders and policy stakeholders, replaced by opaque phrases like “THE PRESIDENT has no public events scheduled” and “Closed Press.”
The chief executive who seems to relish his time in front of television cameras and closely monitors media outlets’ coverage of his presidency is slated Wednesday to remain out of public view for the fifth consecutive day.
Trump has remained behind closed doors and not allowed any media access to himself since he walked out of the Rose Garden Friday afternoon after capitulating to pressure when he agreed to support a bipartisan plan to end a partial government shutdown. His own White House says the shutdown hurt the U.S. economy, and polls showed it tarnished his political standing.
“Why did you cave?” a reporter shouted as an overcoat-clad Trump walked slowly along the Rose Garden colonnade toward the Oval Office. He did not respond. It was the last question a reporter has had a chance to ask him.
Of course, at Trump’s White House things can change in a second. That means the president could summon reporters at any moment if he has something to say. In the meantime, here are three takeaways from his sudden media blackout.
Brace for impact
The president has gone dark before, typically after other times of developments he and his team have seen as negative for his presidency and re-election chances. The same is true after signs of legal problems for him and his inner circle, including his family.
Roger Stone, the GOP strategist who claims to be Trump’s first political adviser, has stood outside federal courthouses in Florida and Washington twice since Friday. He struck a Richard M. Nixon-like victory pose after being indicted on charges stemming from his contacts with Wikileaks about Democratic emails that organization released after they were stolen by Russians.
That indictment from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III moves his investigation one step further inside Trump’s inner circle — and legal experts and Democratic lawmakers say one step closer to the president himself. Mueller filed court documents indicating a senior campaign official directed Stone to contact Wikileaks, with some experts saying that person could be the president himself.
Then there’s a tell-all book from Cliff Sims, a former White House special adviser, about his time working for the president. Trump reportedly is angry about the tome. It describes his White House as a moral compass-compromising workplace occupied by a “team of vipers” and an atmosphere created by Trump that encourages in-fighting.
Should reporters be allowed access to the president, questions about Stone, Mueller’s investigation and Sims’ allegations inevitably would be asked. The president spent several hours Wednesday morning warning a House-Senate border security committee to fund his proposed southern border wall, and defensively lashing out at his own intelligence chiefs and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Whenever Trump decides to again face reporters, expect him to erupt as he has done before after going dark. And that could have major ramifications for the border talks and his relationship with the Kentucky Republican.
Most of Trump’s Tuesday and Wednesday tweets appeared to come during or soon after cable news networks aired segments about Sims’ book, his intelligence chiefs’ Tuesday testimony contradicting him on Iran, the Islamic State, Syria and North Korea.
Tony Schwartz, co-author of Trump’s book “Art of the Deal,” has spent time over the years observing how the former New York real estate mogul operates.
“Well, we all know that it’s unusual for him to retreat. … What appears to be the case over the last couple of years is that he spends most of his time watching TV and doesn’t have a very busy work schedule,” Schwartz told CNN’s “New Day” on Wednesday. “He’s on the phone and talking about what he’s watching on TV about himself.”
When will the president put down the remote and take questions? “He’s the president,” one senior White House official said. “Presidents tend to do what they want.”
It’s possible the next time the president will face reporters could come Friday afternoon as he departs the White House. Trump appears to be headed to his Mar-a-Lago resort in South Florida.
The Federal Aviation Administration posted flight restrictions for the Palm Beach area Monday night due to a “VIP Movement.” Such prohibitions have been issued each time Trump has jetted off to his resort on Air Force One since he took office in January 2017.
The president has not visited the Sunshine State compound since Thanksgiving, opting to mostly remain at the White House during the partial government shutdown.
His only travel was to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas to make the case for his proposed wall and to New Orleans to address an agriculture conference, which he also mostly used to stump for a border barrier.
The president also traveled to Iraq in late December.
In conversations since the shutdown started just before Christmas, White House officials have not disputed the notion that a weekend golfing in Florida might help Trump unwind. But before Marine One lifts off from the South Lawn on Friday, expect another wild mini-press conference.