Trump’s presidential campaign is improvised, undisciplined, rushed and self-indulgent. And so is his diet.
President Obama is so disciplined that his wife has teased that he eats precisely seven lightly salted almonds each night.
President George W. Bush was an exercise buff, obsessed with staying trim by mountain biking and clearing brush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
But Donald Trump is taking a different approach: A junk food aficionado, he is hoping to become the nation’s fast-food president.
“A ‘fish delight,’ sometimes, right?” Trump told Anderson Cooper at a CNN town-hall-style meeting in February, extolling the virtues of McDonald’s. “The Big Macs are great. The Quarter Pounder. It’s great stuff.”
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Trump’s presidential campaign is improvised, undisciplined, rushed and self-indulgent.
And so is his diet.
In an era of gourmet dining and obsession with healthful ingredients, Trump is a throwback to an earlier, more carefree time in American eating, when nobody bothered to ask whether the tomatoes were locally grown, and the first lady certainly didn’t have a vegetable garden, complete with a bee hive, on the South Lawn of the White House.
But in Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts, Trump has broadcast his culinary preferences to the nation — devouring a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) while reading The Wall Street Journal, feasting on a McDonald’s burger and fries to celebrate clinching the Republican presidential nomination and chowing down on a taco bowl to woo Hispanic voters.
He is a lover of diner fare and fast-food grub, of overcooked steaks (“It would rock on the plate, it was so well done,” his longtime butler once observed) and the bland nourishment of Americana. He prefers burgers and meatloaf, Caesar salads and spaghetti, See’s Candies and Diet Coke. And he shuns tea, coffee and alcohol.
But his highbrow, lowbrow image — of the jet-setting mogul who takes buckets of fried chicken onto his private plane with the gold-plated seat-belt buckles — is also a carefully crafted one.
If Bush revealed his patrician upbringing by requesting “a splash” more coffee at a truck stop in New Hampshire, and John Kerry helped reinforce his image as a New England blue blood by trying to order a cheese steak with Swiss in South Philadelphia, Trump’s diet also telegraphs to his blue-collar base that he is one of them.
“There’s nothing more American and more of-the-people than fast food,” said Russ Schriefer, a Republican strategist and ad maker. “It is the peculiarity of the brand that he’s able to be on his multimillion-dollar jet with the gold and black branding and colors, and at the same time eat KFC — and what makes it perfect is he does it all with a knife and fork, while reading The Wall Street Journal.”
Or, as Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser and pollster on the Trump campaign, put it, “It goes with his authenticity.”
“I don’t think Hillary Clinton would be eating Popeye’s biscuits and fried chicken,” she said.
Last April, Clinton did, indeed, visit a Chipotle near Toledo, Ohio, stopping into the chain restaurant unrecognized, in black sunglasses, and ordering a chicken burrito bowl.
And President Bill Clinton was perhaps the nation’s first fast-food commander in chief, famous for ending his jogs at McDonald’s. (He now adheres to a largely vegan diet.)
Still, Trump seems to come by his appetite for fast food genuinely.
While junk food has long been a staple of campaign trail life — Mitt Romney’s 2012 press corps coined the term “slunch” to refer to the unhealthy phenomenon of the “second lunch” — Trump’s reliance on high-calorie fare is driven more by a combination of speed, efficiency and, above all else, cleanliness.
Though he often orders from the Trump Grill when working out of Trump Tower in Manhattan, he eats fast food several times a week while on the road because “it’s quick,” as he told The Daily Mail last year while munching on Burger King on his Boeing 757-200.
Trump has even suggested doing away with state dinners, in a fit of cost and time savings. “We should be eating a hamburger on a conference table,” he said.
“You’ll love it”
A man always prone to distraction and uninterested in small details, he has never approached food as anything other than a problem to be solved, quickly, as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, an occasional dining partner, once told The Washington Examiner.
As the two men ate at Jean-Georges in Manhattan in 2002, Trump ordered briskly and imperiously from the head chef and owner, Christie recalled. “Jean-Georges, remember the appetizer you made for me last week when I was here?” Trump asked the owner. “We’ll take two of those. And remember that main course you made, the special thing you made for me? We’ll take two of those, too.”
Christie watched with confusion and a bit of awe, he recalled. Trump looked at him and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll love it.”
But Trump, who frets about germs, also loves fast food because of the promise, at least, of a basic level of hygiene.
“One bad hamburger, you can destroy McDonald’s,” Trump told Cooper of CNN. “I like cleanliness, and I think you’re better off going there than maybe someplace that you have no idea where the food’s coming from.”
Still, he added, “I think the food’s good.”
Trump’s dining habits also bespeak a certain lack of creativity, and parochialism — the kid from Queens who made it across the river to Manhattan’s glistening skyline, but never cottoned to the borough’s haute cuisine.
He once caused Manhattan foodies to weep into their quinoa when he took Sarah Palin to a pizza restaurant in Times Square — and then proceeded to cut his slice with a plastic knife and fork.
The Republican nominee’s dining whims also keep his team on its toes, with staff members worrying not just about the backdrop for his speeches — but also where to find the nearest drive-through.
“There’s never any real planning for food,” said one. “It’s always just whatever he is craving, which is more often than not McDonald’s.”