Wednesday, June 20, 2018
tbt*

Trump still has a crucial White House pawsition to fill

There's no shortage of reasons to include dogs in your life: They love you no matter what. They help you stay active and less stressed. And, if you happen to be the president, they might even boost your approval ratings.

But after two months in the White House, President Donald Trump seems unconvinced. The 45th president appears poised to become the first in well over a century to not have a dog — or any pet.

There was the fleeting possibility that Patton, a goldendoodle raised by Florida philanthropist Lois Pope, might join the Trump clan. But Pope ultimately decided she couldn't bear to part with the dog. Just as well, Trump told her, according to the New York Post; his frequent jet-setting between Washington, New York and Florida wouldn't accommodate a dog.

But his travel schedule might not be the only factor. His go-to insult: Ted Cruz was "choking like a dog." Marco Rubio was "sweating like a dog." David Gregory, Bill Maher, Glenn Beck, Chuck Todd, Mark Cuban — all of them, Trump declared in various tweets and speeches, had been or should be fired "like a dog."

There's no sign from the White House that Trump's position on dog ownership is likely to change.

But political history offers some compelling reasons to reconsider:

1. Dogs generate good press.

This has been true since the presidency of Warren G. Harding in the early 1920s. "Laddie Boy, the Airedale that belonged to Harding, was really the first to become a media sensation," said Edward Lengel, chief historian at the White House Historical Association. "Harding brought the dog into Cabinet meetings. He made a big deal about the dog having his own Cabinet chair and hosting the Easter egg roll."

This reflected affection, Lengel added, but also a PR move: "Harding followed Woodrow Wilson, who was perceived as being very stiff and distant."

And long before Watergate, Richard Nixon's career got a big boost from a little pup. In a 1952 address widely referred to as the "Checkers" speech, Nixon — running for vice president on Dwight Eisenhower's ticket — denied allegations he had used campaign contributions to cover personal expenses. But he did acknowledge accepting one particular gift: Checkers, a cocker spaniel, named by his 6-year-old Tricia.

Nixon had made himself relatable and sympathetic. (For a while, at least.)

2. Not having a dog — or not being nice to one — raises suspicions.

Scott Walker's allergies to dog dander made headlines during his presidential bid, with his spokeswoman having to vow the Wisconsin governor truly liked dogs, even if he couldn't bear to be near them. President Lyndon B. Johnson mostly doted on his dogs, but he alienated some animal-lovers when he famously hoisted his two beagles by their ears for a photo.

And Seamus Romney, the late Irish setter received a tidal wave of coverage and public debates during the 2012 race because of the old story of how he got sick while spending 12 hours in a crate strapped to the roof of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's family car on a road trip.

3. Dogs bridge political division.

About 44 percent of American households include a dog. That common ground is powerful, and a first dog gives a president the rare opportunity to be seen as just another dog lover.

And when Bill Clinton's beloved Lab, Buddy, was killed by a car in 2002, Washington Post political columnist Mary McGrory noted even the former president's "most curdled critics can summon up a little sympathy for him."

4. Dogs lower stress.

Presidents have often turned to their dogs in moments of anxiety or loneliness. Fala, the Scottish terrier beloved by Franklin Roosevelt, helped her master cope with his physical disability, Lengel said.

And they comfort others, too. When talk grew tense in Harding's Cabinet meetings, Laddie Boy brought levity.

Then there was Barney, George W. Bush's Scottish terrier. His 2002 "BarneyCam" videos offered a dog's-eye look at the White House during the holidays, racking up more than 20 million views. After 9/11, Lengel said, the videos "helped to break down that public sense of terror and fear."

5. Dogs are loyal.

Amid the turbulence and controversy of the Vietnam War, Lengel said, Johnson was comforted by his terrier mix, Yuki. In the aftermath of Clinton's impeachment proceedings, when the family traveled to Martha's Vineyard, Buddy "came along to keep Bill company," Hillary Clinton wrote in her memoir. "He was the only member of our family who was still willing to."

Given how often Trump has emphasized loyalty — and his fury with those who betray it — a canine companion might not be a terrible idea.

Bonus: A dog can't talk to the press. (Yet.)

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