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Perhaps the most relatable thing about Donald Trump is that he revels in canceled plans, and specifically those that require him to leave his home and television set behind. On January 10, the president announced that he would no longer be making the journey overseas. “Because of the Democrats intransigence on Border Security and the great importance of Safety for our Nation, I am respectfully cancelling my very important trip to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. My warmest regards and apologies to the @WEF!” he tweeted. On Thursday, the White House announced that the rest of the U.S. delegation, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, wouldn’t be attending either.
Despite the conciliatory tone in Trump’s statement, those close to him say they weren’t fooled. “Getting him ready for overseas trips was always a struggle. He’s always like, Why do we have to do this shit?” another former senior White House official told me. “He likes control and being around his own people, and in Davos he didn’t feel like he had either of those things.”
The president’s apparent giddiness about skipping Davos reflects his broader disdain for travel. Trump has lived in a tighter bubble than most American presidents. He prefers to leave the White House for one of two destinations: Mar-a-Lago—his Palm Beach, Florida, resort—or a campaign rally, where he can feed off the energy from his supporters and enjoy playing the part of master of ceremonies.
That’s why his decision on Davos, to the officials, was so unsurprising. At rallies and at his homes, surrounded largely by people who support him, Trump can be himself, touting the same lines and arguments from the campaign trail to little criticism. On the world stage, however, Trump is forced to contend with leaders who have ideas and styles drastically different from his own. That’s been true for every president, but rather than embrace it, Trump seems to actively look for opportunities to avoid it—a proclivity that likely impedes his ability to champion the country around the globe.
“The president hates traveling, but when he does, he’d much rather travel to a rally where he’s surrounded by regular people than something where he has to rub elbows with global elites,” a third former White House official said. “It makes him uncomfortable.”
Trump’s performance at last year’s Davos summit illustrated his lack of awareness of, or perhaps indifference to, the protocol for international junkets. In his speech, he omitted any mention of geopolitics or the international issues that thread through most WEF addresses. Instead, he lauded himself as America’s first “businessman” to become president, and predicted that his overhaul of the tax code would spur billions of dollars in new jobs and investments in the U.S. In a question-and-answer session following his speech, he decried the press as “nasty, vicious, and fake.” (And, ironically in light of the current gridlock, he said he believed that bipartisan immigration reform was just around the corner.)