When President Donald Trump returns to New York City for the first time since his inauguration on Thursday, he will go to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
The museum, a decommissioned aircraft carrier, is one of those great city tourist attractions New Yorkers visit once to let their kids check out the landing simulator. Maybe you return when Uncle Tim is visiting from out of town with pre-purchased tickets.
But Trump appears to have been a regular visitor, at least according to media accounts. His upcoming visit, accompanied by the Australian prime minister, will ceremoniously commemorate the 75th anniversary of a WWII battle. Much has changed since Trump’s previous trips.
Getting in the newspaper
The New York tabloids chronicled him at multiple Intrepid society functions, where “The Donald” mixed with titans of business and politics. He was at the wedding of former Republican Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey and then-Democratic financier Wilbur Ross. “Donald Trump was there with his Marla, who was a stunner in a short and snug red suit,” reported the Daily News in 1995. The reception was at the Intrepid. Marla Maples is now his ex-wife, but Ross is Trump’s commerce secretary.
More recently, Trump’s son Barron held his fourth and fifth birthdays at the Intrepid in 2010 and 2011. According to People Magazine in 2011, “Joined by 25 friends from school and family, Barron toured the ship and ate chicken nuggets and pizza (which dad Donald Trump also enjoyed)!” According to the Intrepid’s website, the swankiest birthday packages starts at $1800.
It was a pilot-themed birthday, and perhaps the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. On Tuesday, in a bizarre speech to the United States Air Force football team, Trump the president said in part, “I love the Air Force. I love those planes. I love buying those planes at a reduced price.”
Back in 2010, Trump rewarded Barron with a cake modeled after the mogul’s new 757. It was a complicated cake, its creator Elena Shumskaya told me on Wednesday — the airplane was flying through clouds, the clouds were hanging as if in the air, rain was coming out of the clouds onto hills on the ground. The rain and hills were made of sugar.
Shumskaya says she made multiple cakes for the Trumps, starting with one for the opening of the Trump National Golf Club at Bedminster. That’s where her storefront was at the time. It’s also where the presidential entourage is reported to be heading after the Intrepid event, not even a night in NYC.
In October 2012, Trump was back at the Intrepid. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was in the midst of a late fundraising push ahead of Election Day, and the effort included a dinner aboard the aircraft carrier. Trump was a headliner along with current associates Rep. Paul Ryan, Reince Priebus, and Rudy Giuliani. They helped round up the big bucks for Romney, though it wasn’t enough to get him to the Oval Office. And Trump’s contribution apparently wasn’t enough to win over Romney, who spent a few months of 2016 as a leader of the Never Trump movement.
From showman to would-be statesman
Yet that didn’t exactly slow Trump down, for there he was in the hot seat at the Intrepid once again in October at NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum, hosted by “Today Show” anchor Matt Lauer.
“In just a couple of short months, Americans are going to vote in a critical election,” Lauer led off before his separate questioning of each candidate. “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are vying not only to become president of the United States, but one of them will become the leader of the most potent military force the world has ever seen.”
Lauer went on to grill Clinton on emails and policy, and then came Trump’s turn.
“I was totally against the war in Iraq,” Trump said inaccurately to Lauer, who didn’t contradict him. Critics said Lauer treated Trump with kid gloves, though to be fair the anchor asked some hard questions and wasn’t all that different from other interviewers of Trump. Interlocutors had treated Trump like a society person rather than a serious candidate for much of the presidential primaries. Because he was, basically, a society person. No longer.
So Trump is coming home alright, to a town where he has deep roots in the local institutions of high society, business and journalism. He returns to a town that facilitated his rise, like it or not. He is coming home ever-so-briefly to use New York and the Intrepid as a prop once again. Then on to the next.