Golfing With Presidents: It’s Different With Donald Trump

The previous post, “Covering a President: ‘The Challenge Is to Be Fair,’ was about journalist James Dodson’s meetings with former President George H.W. Bush. Here’s another Dodson presidential meeting, this time with Donald Trump. The 2017 story by Bill Littlefield, of radio station WBUR, describes what it was like for Dodson, by then mostly a golf writer, to meet President Trump at a Trump golf course in North Carolina. Two excerpts from Littlefield’s good story:

“I knew Trump was very interested in golf,” Dodson says. “I knew he was buying up golf courses. His M.O. was to find a financially distressed property, buy it, keep it in bankruptcy, do a half-a-million-dollar renovation, fire the entire staff and hire a third back.”

So James Dodson, who grew up a Republican but currently describes his political stance as “radical centrist,” knew that. And maybe he thought that’s all there was to know about Donald Trump. But that was before they’d met. Which, as I’ve suggested, wasn’t Dodson’s idea.

James Dodson. (Frank Pierce)

James Dodson. (Frank Pierce)

“This PR guy kept calling me and inviting me,” Dodson says. “And he kept saying things like, ‘Oh, Donald Trump loves your books.’ And I kept saying, ‘Donald Trump doesn’t read books, I’m told. And he hadn’t a clue who I am.’ Anyway, he called three or four times. Finally, I said yes.”
Dodson listened politely to Trump’s celebration of what he’d wrought, and when he’d finished his cheeseburger …

“I said, ‘Well, I gotta go.’ And Trump hopped up, and he said, ‘Well, I’ll walk you to the door,'” Dodson recalls. “And he took my arm, a real bro hug, and we’re crossing this long room, and he says, ‘You’re the one that writes all the books.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve written a few.’ And he said, ‘I haven’t read ’em. Because I really don’t get much chance to read books. But I write books. Have you read my books?’ I deadpanned. I said, ‘Yes, they’re all stacked up on my bedside table. I haven’t gotten to them yet.’ But he didn’t seem to get the joke. And we’re walking in this bro hug. I mean, very snug, and he’s a big guy. And he said, ‘So, you’re a journalist. You didn’t get to ask me any questions. Ask me anything you want. I’m the most open interview you’ve ever had. I’ll tell you anything. Straightest talker you’ve ever met.'”

Dodson tossed his host a couple of batting practice questions about golf courses. Then he tried a change-up.

“So,” Dodson continues, “I said, ‘Ah, are you going to run for president again?’ ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m thinking about it,’ he says. ‘You know, everywhere I go, people say to me, “Trump, Trump, this country is totally f-ed up. You need to run for president. You’re the only guy that could straighten it out. We need a businessman.”‘ And he says, ‘What do you think? I oughta run?’ And I said, ‘You’d be fun to follow.’ So he said, ‘Yeah, yeah. Let me tell you. I’m thinking of doing it. And he said, ‘And I’ll tell you what: I’ll let you know if I do it.’

“Now we’re at the door. And he’s still got me in the bro hug. And he says, ‘Come on, those are nothing. Those are softballs.’ And he says, ‘One more for the road. Give me something with some mustard.’ And this is what I said: ‘Well, OK, fair enough. My wife and I watched The Apprentice for the first time the other night in preparation for coming over here. And, honestly, the question that kept popping up in my head is: are you as big an a–hole as you seem? Or do you just play one on TV? And this is what he did. He dropped my arm like it had caught fire spontaneously, stepped back at least a yard, made that kind of constipated furious pig face he makes, slapped my back, doubled over and popped up laughing like you can’t believe and declared, ‘Yeah, it’s fun, isn’t it?’

“You know, I liked the guy. I liked him. I mean, he was somebody you’d like to play golf with. He’s got a good golf swing. He’s apparently a pretty good golfer. He clearly loves the game. I’m kind of sorry I didn’t get to play with him.”

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