President Trump’s Rose Garden Strategy

WASHINGTON — The natural light is flattering.

The entrance from the Oval Office’s French doors, and the ensuing walk down the colonnade, is richly symbolic.

And the presidential podium perched on the steps in front of the manicured grass conveys power.

The Rose Garden, a 125-foot-long French-style garden, has in recent months become President Trump’s preferred venue for public events at the White House, whether he is hosting athletes and world leaders, or pitching his own defeats as victories.

He has insisted on the locale even when it has been uncomfortably cold.

Mr. Trump, a showman and former reality show star with a keen interest in production values, has always cared deeply about the image he projects.

Now in his third year in office, as Democratic presidential candidates sort through the process of choosing a nominee, Mr. Trump has increasingly embraced the Rose Garden — a literal interpretation of a time-tested strategy for incumbents seeking to harness the power of the presidency to secure their re-elections.

President Gerald Ford employed a “Rose Garden strategy” in his 1976 re-election campaign, not leaving the White House for months in what was deemed by one aide to be a “no campaign campaign.” President Jimmy Carter followed his lead four years later, staying in the White House to weather the Iran-contra affair. President George Bush was criticized for isolating himself from voters by running for re-election from the Oval Office.

Mr. Trump appears to be trying a version of the strategy for himself.

In the first five months of 2019, Mr. Trump has held at least 11 Rose Garden events — more than double the number of events he staged there during the first five months of 2017.

This year Mr. Trump has chosen the Rose Garden to announce he was caving on his demand for a border wall and ending a 35-day government shutdown. He stood outside to declare a national emergency on the border with Mexico, amid opposition from lawmakers in his own party. He has made congressmen who did not wear coats shiver beside him while he bandied for over an hour with journalists.

Mr. Trump chose the Rose Garden as the venue for a speech on his plan to overhaul parts of the nation’s immigration system, filling the chairs in front of him with Republican lawmakers who remain skeptical that he will be able to follow through with legislation.

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Mr. Trump and Tiger Woods walking to the Rose Garden for a Medal of Freedom ceremony this month.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

He has also used it to welcome the authoritarian president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. The Rose Garden hosted a Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony, at which Mr. Trump praised the golfer Tiger Woods, his friend and business partner. It was where the president honored the Boston Red Sox, and where he took a rare turn in the audience for the anniversary of Melania Trump’s anti-bullying initiative, Be Best.

The Rose Garden has been a key tool for White House communications operations for decades, often used as the backdrop for the signing of major pieces of legislation.

“It’s not as formal as a statement from the East Room or behind the desk of the Oval Office,” said Lori Cox Han, a political-science professor at Chapman University, who wrote a paper about how presidents use the Rose Garden and other public activities. “But it’s one of those traditional, very presidential, settings that can work to the president’s advantage. You sign a bill that doesn’t have a lot of support in Congress, and it says, ‘I’m still the president,’ in this iconic setting. The perception is very important.”

For Mr. Trump, it has also served as a venue for declaring victory prematurely. After the House voted to repeal most of the Affordable Care Act in May 2017, Mr. Trump staged a Rose Garden celebration with about 100 Republican lawmakers in attendance. The measure failed in the Senate two months later.

Since he entered office, Mr. Trump has favored backdrops that portray strength. He pushed for a military parade down Pennsylvania Avenue that was ultimately scratched. More recently, he has explored putting himself at the center of the nationally televised fireworks display on July 4, and addressing the nation from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. That plan, however, is running into resistance from Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington.

But the Rose Garden is one of the few outdoor venues he controls unilaterally.

“He’s an indoor creature, but he wants to be seen outdoors,” said Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian. “He likes the Oval Office because he could do the big signature and show power. But after a while, it becomes an image of a guy who is locked in a room. This is a deeply image-driven president. In the Rose Garden, he’s able to project that he’s outside and enjoying the compound.”

Former aides said Mr. Trump loved how his complexion looked in the Rose Garden’s natural light, as well as its proximity to the Oval Office and that it felt like a “tourist destination” he could show off while hosting an event.

Mr. Trump often requests the garden for events, former aides said. The one drawback for the president, according to two former aides, is the wind, which could tousle his hair.

Mr. Trump is not atypical in his desire to get outdoors. President Barack Obama staged at least 25 Rose Garden events in his first year in office, according to the public papers of the presidents. “He’s from Hawaii,” said Dan Pfeiffer, who served as Mr. Obama’s communications director. “He liked being outside.”

Source: NYT

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