Analysis

The Reluctant President

Trump has frequently refused to do things his aides requested—or he's done them, but complained about it.

President Trump with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde at the Gender Equality Advisory Council breakfast during the G7 summit in Quebec in June 2018
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Jan. 14, 2019, 8 p.m.

President Trump had been in office less than 100 days when he complained in a Reuters interview that his new job was “more work” than he expected, adding, “I thought it would be easier.” Almost two years later, he still is finding that the presidency forces him to do things he doesn’t want to. Just in the last week, he lamented his staff pushing him to give an Oval Office address, sit down with Democratic leaders, and travel to the southern border. Being president, he has learned, comes with lots of duties he finds unpleasant. Here are 15 things he has complained about or resisted:

Going to the border.

In off-the-record remarks later leaked to The New York Times, Trump was open about his trip to the border on Thursday. “It’s not going to change a damn thing, but I’m still doing it,” he said. “But,” he said while gesturing toward his top communication aides, “these people behind you say it’s worth it.”

Giving last week’s Oval Office address.

In the same remarks, as reported by The New York Times, he made clear that he didn’t want to give the address, something that was communicated by how uncomfortable he looked seated behind his desk for the speech.

Negotiating with Congress.

He likes his image as a master negotiator, but he has been unwilling to do what it takes to negotiate with Congress. Last week, he walked out of a session with Democratic leaders after only a few minutes because they did not immediately cave to his demands. In 2017, he boasted of “a big fat, beautiful negotiation” on health care. But he frustrated both his staff and members of Congress by failing to master the details of the issue. Politico reported first that conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus found Trump could not respond to questions and that he “didn’t have sufficient command of the policy details to negotiate.” Aides did not dispute the New York Times charge that he didn’t understand the issue, telling The Daily Beast that “the president understands winning.”

Delivering speeches written for him.

Trump was supposed to deliver a speech on taxes when he went to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in April last year. But he didn’t want to. So he flamboyantly threw the speech into the air. “That would’ve been a little boring, a little boring,” he said. “Now I’m reading off the first paragraph; I said, 'This is boring. Come on.'”

Going to a war zone.

For two years, aides pushed him to visit troops in a war zone. But he didn’t want to, telling people he feared for his safety and didn’t want to be associated with the missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meeting with Iraqi leaders while in Iraq.

When he relented and finally took a Christmas trip to Iraq, he did not meet with Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, angering Iraqi officials already troubled by what they see as erratic U.S. policy in Syria.

Going to Canada for an allied summit.

Most presidents don’t worry about going to Canada for meetings with allies. But, The Washington Post reported, Trump “vented privately” about how much he didn’t want to go to a G7 summit in Quebec in 2018. He complained that too many allies differ with him and voice those differences.

Spending time at any summit listening to other leaders.

He was most vocal about Canada, but that’s not the only summit Trump didn’t want to attend. He also has complained about—or skipped partially or entirely—summits for the G20, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and NATO. When he went to the G20 in Argentina, microphones picked up him saying, “Get me out of here,” when he was supposed to be with other leaders. “He hates traveling, foreigners, and multilateral diplomacy,” wrote diplomats Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He doesn’t like sharing the spotlight.

“Clarifying” his remarks after Charlottesville.

Aides persuaded the president to clean up his remark blaming “both sides” for the violence at the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville. He didn’t want to do it and, according to Bob Woodward in his book Fear, immediately regretted it, saying, “That was the biggest f---king mistake I’ve made.”

Receiving traditional intelligence briefings.

From the start, Trump has made clear he doesn’t like getting detailed intelligence briefings, ordering the Presidential Daily Brief to be reduced, The Washington Post reported, “to a collection of bullet points and images or graphics.” No experts, but lots of maps. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it was tough to deal with a president who is “pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read.”

Hosting Christmas parties at the White House.

Trump doesn’t like hosting the multiple Christmas parties that are traditional at the White House. The reason, according to New York Magazine: “Because it’s not about him.”

Firing people.

Forget his “You’re fired!” image from TV. This president refuses to fire anybody personally. He delegates the unpleasant task.

Reversing himself on family separations at the border.

He really didn’t want to reverse his policy on family separations and still denies that’s what he did, but he caved after the public reaction to pictures of children taken from their parents and put in cages.

Leading the nation in mourning Sen. John McCain.

Trump initially refused to let the White House issue a formal statement when McCain died in August. And he refused to order flags lowered in his memory. He had to relent on both after veterans’ groups reacted to pictures of the White House flag raised high.

Winning the 2016 election.

Perhaps the most controversial thing that it is alleged Trump didn’t want to do is actually win the election. Author Michael Wolff contended in Fire and Fury that Trump never wanted to be president. “Once he lost, Trump would be both insanely famous and a martyr to Crooked Hillary,” wrote Wolff. “Losing was winning.” Wolff also wrote that Trump refused to sit for a briefing to learn about the Constitution.

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