Washington - Four days in Tokyo. Then it’s off to see Queen Elizabeth before a jaunt to Normandy, France, and perhaps time in Ireland.
A return trip to Japan? Why not. And throw in Seoul. Then it’s back to France for President Donald Trump for a summit with world leaders.
The homebody president is preparing for a jet-setting summer of travel as he heads into 2020, with an itinerary that will see Air Force One fly more than 36,000 miles — almost 1.5 times the earth’s circumference — not counting helicopter trips and motorcades.
The flurry of international travel is a marked change of pace for a president who likes to sleep in his own bed and rarely strays far from the White House unless it’s to his own properties. The packed calendar is the product of both a concerted attempt by Trump to wrap himself in the trappings of the presidency heading into re-election season and a fluke of the global summit calendar.
It will play out as an array of foreign challenges, from Venezuela to North Korea and Iran, confronts a president who ran on an isolationist “America First” platform.
“When things are hot in Washington, there’s an appeal to going abroad, being diplomatic, meeting with overseas leaders” and redirecting media attention, said Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University. He said White Houses often hope that the images beamed home from such trips will help presidents look more “presidential.”
A stream of television footage of Trump with foreign leaders “makes him look like he is the one directing the country, a contrast with the Democrats,” Zelizer said.
Trump is set to depart Friday for a four-day state visit to Japan, where he will be the first world leader to meet with the country’s new emperor. He plans to hold a joint news conference with Prime Minster Shinzo Abe and present a trophy at a sumo wrestling tournament.
Five days after he gets home, Trump is off for a state visit in the United Kingdom, where he’ll mingle with the royal family and mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day with ceremonies in Portsmouth, England and Normandy.
He had been expected to return to Ireland, where he owns a golf course, but that stop was in question because of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s concerns about meeting with the president at a Trump property rather than more neutral territory, according to Irish media. Deputy Prime Minister Simon Coveney said reports of the spat were “a total exaggeration” and he told Irish broadcaster RTE that details of the visit were still being finalized.
The end of June will see Trump in Japan a second time. Meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are planned on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, followed by consultations in Seoul with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the state of North Korean nuclear negotiations.
Trump returns to France in late August for a Group of Seven summit in the seaside town of Biarritz on the Basque Country coast.
Trump is likely to be gone during at least one day of the inaugural Democratic presidential debates, scheduled to be held on back-to-back nights in late June owing to the sizable field of would-be Trump challengers. While his rivals are clamoring for the spotlight on stage, Trump will be abroad, welcomed by red carpets, honored with state dinners and engaging in policy discussions with presidents and prime ministers.
It’s a split screen his campaign is eagerly awaiting.
“As they squabble in a field of two dozen socialists, President Trump is orchestrating the hottest economy on record, rectifying our trade relations across the globe, meeting with world leaders and pushing America First foreign policy,” said campaign spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany. “All of this while rallying with his supporters across the country. I’d say to the 2020 Democrats, good luck keeping up.”
The trips also come as foreign policy is increasingly dominating Trump’s agenda. His administration is promoting a change of government in Venezuela, Trump’s friend Kim Jong Un is firing off missiles in North Korea, and tensions are growing between the U.S. and Iran. The U.S. is in an escalating trade war with China, with negotiations to find a solution at their lowest point in months.
While Trump’s team believes the pageantry of global affairs offers an advantage to the incumbent, it also brings pitfalls. Trump has at times flouted diplomatic protocol and called into question the U.S. commitment to its alliances like no recent leader. That’s a frequent line of attack from Democrats such as former Vice President Joe Biden, who has made returning to an internationalist foreign policy a centerpiece of his campaign.
Already, surveys show global affairs threaten to be a significant political liability for Trump heading into his 2020 re-election bid.
Overall, 63 percent of Americans disapproved of Trump’s job handling foreign policy in a January poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Like other issues, the partisan divide was overwhelming: 76 percent of Republicans approved, while just 8 percent of Democrats said the same.
After a pair of whirlwind tours in 2017, Trump has lagged his predecessors in overseas travel and has skipped several world gatherings typically attended by American presidents, sending Vice President Mike Pence instead. Aides often note that Trump agrees to trips ahead of time then complains to them about the pace of travel once they’re underway.
Nonetheless, Trump, like other presidents, has often tried to deploy the majesty of presidential travel for political gain, using Air Force One as a backdrop for campaign rallies and playing footage of his meetings with world leaders in tweeted videos.
But Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, said he didn’t think the visuals mattered much for Trump.
“I don’t think it makes a lick of difference,” he said. While past presidents may have been keen to show off their foreign policy know-how, forge alliances and convey strength, Fleischer said “this cycle is not like that” because Trump’s appeal is driven so much by his personality.
Zelizer agreed, noting the unusual stability of Trump’s approval and disapproval ratings.
For Trump haters, those emotions “will overshadow any handshakes,” he said, while “for those who love him, I don’t think that’s why.”