Camp David sidelined for Mar-a-Lago, again

Its become entirely apparent that President Trump prefers the plush amenities of his Mar-a-Lago estate over the accommodations at Camp David, the secluded traditional presidential retreat in Maryland.

Before his dramatic November election victory, then-candidate Trump was quoted as saying to a reporter:

“Camp David is very rustic, it’s nice, you’d like it. You know how long you’d like it? For about 30 minutes.”

President Trump has absconded with Air Force One to the Palm Beach, Fla. club for weekend retreats four times since entering the White House, the most recent trip coming this weekend. However, he is yet to make his inaugural visit to Camp David since taking office, a roughly 30-minute ride on Marine One from the White House.

At this point in their presidencies, Barack Obama had visited Camp David once, while George Bush had already made a trio of appearances at the site. During their two terms, Obama racked up 39 visits in the span of 93 days, Bush traveled to Camp David 149 times over 487 days.

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President John F. Kennedy, left, walking a path at Camp David with Dwight D. Eisenhower on April 22, 1961. The two men met to discuss the Bay of Pigs invasion. Photo: Paul Vathis/Associated Press

Camp David comes from humble beginnings. Officially a Naval installation, it was constructed by the Works Progress Administration and opened in 1938 as Camp Hi-Catoctin, 180 acres of public land set aside as a destination for government employees.

It wasn’t first used by a president until 1942, when Franklin D. Roosevelt sought to escape the muggy climate of the nation’s capital, which had begun effecting his sinuses. The Secret Service began looking for a location within 100 miles of the White House that the president could retreat to, they settled on the site on Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain. The conversion cost back then: $18,650, according to the National Park Service.

The temperature is about 10 degrees cooler at Camp David than it would be in Washington, the property has cabins, trails, a swimming pool and plenty of foliage from the multitude of trees on the grounds. The president sleeps at the Aspen Lodge. After his first visit, Roosevelt christened the property with a new name: Shangri-La.

In 1945, President Truman designated Camp David as the official presidential retreat. Eisenhower renamed it in 1953 in honor of his 5-year-old grandson Dwight David Eisenhower II.

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Former President Gerald Ford, his daughter Susan and his wife, Betty, right, strolling with their dog Liberty at Camp David in August 1976. Photo: David Hume Kennerly/The White House

Successive presidents have used the facility to write, converse with top advisers, conduct global diplomacy and forge a historic peace accord. In 1974, The New York Times wrote the property’s seclusion was its main attraction: It “has provided eight American presidents and their families with perhaps the nearest thing to true privacy that they can know during their terms in public life and in the public eye.”

Mar-a-Lago has a much different feel, which hits you right at the surface.

The 126-room Mediterranean estate on 20 acres between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean first opened in 1927 as the palatial winter residence of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heiress to General Foods.

When Post died in 1973, Mar-a-Lago was willed to the federal government, and ironically, presented as a possible location for another presidential retreat. President Richard Nixon visited the property to scout the location, but the property was returned to the Post Foundation because of concerns it was too costly to maintain ($1 million a year) and too difficult to secure (it was in the flight path to Palm Beach International Airport).

Trump bought the property in 1986, who turned it into a private club in 1995. It includes a tunnel for guests to travel to the beach (and underneath Ocean Boulevard) and a private 100-foot-by-50-foot pool.

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President Trump and his wife, Melania, along with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and his wife, Akie Abe, at Mar-a-Lago in February.

Camp David is closed to the public. However, for a $200,000 membership fee, you can get fairly close to rubbing shoulders with the leader of the free world. You may even be able to watch while White House officials, sitting feet from you, work by the light of their cellphones to respond to an international crisis.

And you can take pictures.

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President Trump and the first lady having dinner with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, his wife, along with Robert Kraft, the chief executive of the New England Patriots, at Mar-a-Lago.

Camp David has an endless amount of activities for the president to participate in when he wants to escape the hustle and bustle of Washington. Former President Obama, for example, spent his time skeet shooting, playing pool and playing basketball. Bush had bike trails installed so he could ride in private, while his father and former President Gerald Ford played tennis.

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President Barack Obama shooting skeet at Camp David in 2012. Photo: Pete Souza/The White House

Mar-a-Lago is not short on amenities: It offers a spa and a salon and popular sports of yesteryear like bridge (classes are offered by “a certified master instructor”) and croquet.

The croquet court is described on the club’s website as such:

“Boasting one of the most beautiful lawns in the country, the Mar-a-Lago Club venue will not only challenge both mind and body, but will also add a sense of serenity so seldom found in competitive sports.”

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The Mar-a-Lago Club’s 20 acres include a croquet court.

Even before Trump nicknamed the property the “Southern White House,” Mar-a-Lago was not easily accessible to the public.

It has high walls, which date to when Ms. Post owned the property, as well as a security gate. Now, when the president visits the club, roads are blocked, the Coast Guard patrols the shoreline, a no-fly zone is enacted, and of course the Secret Service travels with him. Neighbors of the estate have already begun dreading hearing the president is coming to town, they worry about the potential loss of revenue whenever he visits.

Security at Camp David, however, is pretty straightforward: the property is surrounded by maximum-security fencing.

More important, the site is also known as Naval Support Facility Thurmont, which sums up its level of protection. Members of the Navy and the Marines are permanently stationed there.

Presidents have played host to royalty and foreign leaders at Camp David, as well as top advisers and cabinet members. Visitors stay in one of the many cabins on the property. Roosevelt and Churchill met there during World War II, and in 1959, at the height of the Cold War, Eisenhower hosted Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union.

In 1978, through the intervention of President Jimmy Carter, the site became the home of a historic peace agreement, the Camp David Accords, between President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel.

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President Jimmy Carter with President Anwar al-Sadat, left, of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel on Sept. 6, 1978, at Camp David. Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

President Obama hosted a meeting of the Group of 8 leaders at Camp David in 2012. President Bill Clinton held intense meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel and the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat in 2000 in efforts to broker a peace deal between the two sides.

When comparing Camp David to Mar-a-Lago, it’s important to remember one thing: Camp David is where presidents belong.

Richard Nixon visited Mar-a-Lago in July 1974, making an unannounced visit to “determine its potential.” He spent exactly 31 minutes roaming the property, and deemed the site unneccessary for the nation’s commander in chief.

At least until President Trump was sworn-in.

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