When President-elect Barack Obama announced his nominee for attorney general eight years ago, he introduced Eric H. Holder Jr. at a news conference with extensive remarks about his qualifications and then handed the podium over to Holder to outline his vision for the Justice Department.
When President-elect Donald Trump announced his nominee for attorney general on Friday, he introduced Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., to the nation with a four-sentence quote delivered to the press corps via email. The president-elect was ensconced at Trump Tower in Manhattan. And over the weekend, as his nominee’s record of racially charged statements drew sharp criticism, Trump did not appear with Sessions or say anything more about him.
So it has gone for Trump, who has spent the 12 days since being elected president mostly out of public view and rejecting, at least for now, some of the pre-inaugural rituals of Obama and other presidents.
A postelection news conference? Not for Trump.
A Veterans Day event to underscore the incoming administration’s commitment to wounded warriors? Not for Trump.
A visit to a deli or a convenience store, or just a step outside on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan to take in the crisp fall air and greet people – the kinds of routine photo opportunities that Trump the candidate did to show he was in touch with everyday Americans? Not for the president-elect.
“Trump’s an anomaly of seeming to be hiding right in plain view and not wanting to interact with the press corps or the general public,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University. “Most presidents-elect are immersed in how other presidents did it, and Trump’s almost defiant in wanting to do it his way.”
Brinkley said it is “odd” that Trump has not been holding public events to announce his major appointments so far. That approach not only deprives the media and history of photos and video of the moments but also leaves it to journalists to introduce the nominees to the nation.
“It may be that he’s weary of the press pool or he’s afraid of protests or he’s tired or his speechwriters are tired, but he’s not framing for the public who these men are that he’s choosing and why they are the right people for these all-important posts,” Brinkley said.
Jason Miller, communications director for Trump’s transition team, said that the president-elect has been focused entirely on selecting key government personnel and developing policies for the start of his administration.
“Since the election, President-elect Trump’s singular focus has been on forming his administration and preparing for the orderly transfer of power in January, and the results thus far have been outstanding,” Miller said. He added, “In fact, the president-elect is ahead of schedule compared to many of his predecessors, a positive sign for what’s to come.”
Trump’s absence from the limelight has been notable considering his well-known thirst for public attention and love of stagecraft. After a campaign in which he fed off the energy of his boisterous crowds, Trump for nearly two weeks now has avoided much interaction with his future constituents. He has given no remarks nor made symbolic appearances designed to offer reassurance to the 53 percent of Americans who voted against him – and to begin, as he put it in his election-night victory speech, “to bind the wounds of division.”
To be sure, Trump spent the Thursday after the election in open view. Cable news channels covered the landing of his plane at Washington’s Reagan National Airport live, then his Oval Office visit with Obama, then his tour of the U.S. Capitol and meetings with Republican leaders there. Trump and his family also sat for a “60 Minutes” interview with CBS’ Lesley Stahl.
Otherwise, however, Trump has rarely been seen by the public as he keeps up a busy schedule of private meetings and job interviews.
One of the only times Trump left the tower was Tuesday to attend a private family dinner at 21 Club, a midtown Manhattan steakhouse – an outing for which he ditched the press pool. Grainy cellphone video captured Trump cheerfully promising fellow diners that he would cut their taxes.
Trump did not allow journalists to cover his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which took place inside his gold, marble and crystal-adorned Trump Tower penthouse apartment. In an unusual move, Trump’s oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, who helps run the family’s real estate businesses, sat in on the meeting, as did her husband, Jared Kushner, an influential adviser to the president-elect.
Trump retreated Friday night to his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, where he spent Saturday and Sunday meeting with a parade of possible Cabinet members, including 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, a candidate for secretary of state.
As their guests arrived, Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence would open the door to the clubhouse and greet them, shake hands and pose for the cameras. Late Saturday, reporters got in a few quick questions as Trump walked to his SUV before dinner.
“We’re seeing tremendous talent – people that, like I say, we will make America great again,” Trump said, invoking his campaign slogan.
On Sunday morning, Trump and Pence attended services at Lamington Presbyterian Church, a white-steepled, 18th-century house of worship in Bedminster where the bells were ringing upon their arrival. Aides did not permit the press pool to follow them inside, claiming to be honoring a request from church officials.
Some observers who have been concerned by his lack of public outreach said they were willing to cut Trump some slack. In the weeks leading up to the election, after all, it was not Trump but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton who felt assured of victory and already was contemplating what she would do in the immediate aftermath to signal a coming together.
“I’ll just say this: Trump has been a bit behind on transition stuff – in no small part because I doubt anybody in his transition leadership thought he was going to win,” Mike Murphy, a Republican strategist and Trump critic, wrote in an email when asked to assess the president-elect’s activities.
“I think he could make some public appearances in the spirit of his victory speech, and that would be a needed and good thing,” Murphy added. “I’m sure he misses the roar of the crowd, but the question is, will he have the discipline to seek unifying – not divisive – cheers now that he is president-elect?”
Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Obama who helped shape the then-president-elect’s image during the 2008 transition, said he was struck by Trump’s approach. He noted that in 2000, George W. Bush, who was assuming office after losing the popular vote and after a month-long recount, kept up “a very smart tempo of events to put the election behind him and build momentum for his agenda.”
For Trump, Pfeiffer wrote in an email, “it’s an odd choice to not try to build some good will with the public in the wake of an election victory. Especially after an election as divisive as this one, Trump could have made some doubling gestures to try heal the country or reach out to the plurality that votes against him, yet he has done none of that.”
George Gigicos, the Trump campaign’s advance team director, told reporters last week that Trump is planning “a victory tour” after the Thanksgiving holiday.
The tour would get the president-elect back on the road and in front of the citizenry – though it is unlikely to take him to parts of the country that were hostile to his candidacy.
Asked where the president-elect might travel, Gigicos said, “Obviously to the states that we won and the swing states we flipped.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Philip Rucker