Michael Wolff’s third book on the Trump administration, titled Landslide: The Final Days of the Trump Presidency, contains many astonishing snippets of what life was like in the White House in the final days before the Capitol Riots and Trump’s exit from power. It details his reaction to the election and the inner workings of a crumbling political campaign where many of his closest allies took pains to be absent as the election results were contested.
An exclusive extract published in New York Magazine reveals that: “a second-floor office meant a degree of exclusion but also protection: Trump would never climb the stairs (and, by the end of his term, he never had).” It’s a view that was also expressed as early as 2017 when the Washington Post predicted that Trump was unlikely to ever go up to that part of the executive mansion.
He has commented in the past on his wariness of falling over, after a video of him shuffling carefully down a ramp went viral. “The ramp that I descended after my West Point commencement speech was very long and steep,” Trump tweeted from his now-suspended account. "[It] had no handrail and, most importantly, was very slippery. The last thing I was going to do is ‘fall’ for the Fake News to have fun with. Final ten feet I ran down to level ground. Momentum!”
Rumors about Trump's 'bathmophobia' – a fear of stairs or slopes, have plagued the former president for years. In October 2017 these rumors surfaced again, as he appeared to lend a hand to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after he nearly tripped on the stairs leading out of the Rose Garden after talking to reporters at the White House. However, reports also appeared to the contrary: rather it was Trump reaching out for support.
Earlier in January 2017 Trump was seen to hold hands with former UK Prime Minister Theresa May in the White House. The Independent reported that May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that she "takes the president’s hand to help him up and down slopes and stairs". However, Downing Street did not discuss the president’s alleged phobia, instead dubbing the hand-holding “a chivalrous gesture”.
The book claims that some Trump staff would take refuge on the second floor knowing that he was very unlikely to call on them. In fact, when he was at the White House he rarely left the Oval Office during his presidency, holding court for a stream of people coming through the doors. TIME Magazine reported that “for Trump, the room functions as something like a royal court or meeting hall, with open doors that senior aides and distinguished visitors flock through when he is in the building”.
The TIME article from May 2017 goes on to paint a picture of Trump shrinking the space he regularly used in the 132-room mansion down to a few preferred sanctuaries, including his private dining room and the Blue Room, which he would use to schmooze visiting dignitaries and, of course, members of the press.
From assuming office in January 2017, President Donald Trump spent $3.4 million “to bring back the luster and glory of the White House”, which he described as “a real dump” back in August 2017. Classic oil paintings of Trump's political heroes such as Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt replaced the Obama's collection of modern art and filled with military touches and American flags.
The 45th US president, who preferred to spend his leisure time at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida or his New Jersey golf club, didn't waste any time redecorating the Oval Office. The first thing the new president changed was the 'stained' wallpaper, opting for a gray damask print.
The former POTUS re-instated the gold curtains used by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, swapped the mid-century modern furniture for Bush Junior's gold-hued sofas. He also brought back the golden rug designed by First Lady Nancy Reagan.
The Roosevelt Room had a Trump makeover, too. Displaying his penchant for all things shiny and gold, the current leader of the free world adorned the room with two imposing gilded eagles, snapped up from a Maryland antique shop.
Parts of the West Wing were also refreshed. The Lobby was given a corporate, business hotel feel – its neutral walls and gray patterned carpet wouldn't look out of place in one of the former president's hotels.
Trump's love of gold was especially apparent when he hosted the first state dinner of his presidency in April 2017, a lavish affair in honor of President Emmanuel Macron of France. The gold and crème color scheme was selected by the then-First Lady Melania Trump.
During her time Melania carried on the First Lady tradition of improving and refreshing the White House. On her penultimate day in the role, she posted a statement covering the changes and thanking the various White House officials – and private donors – who helped make her vision a reality. She said: “The projects that I have overseen during the last four years are ones which I believe will not only preserve the house’s heritage but enhance the experience of its beauty and solemnity for generations to come."
From replacing the faded wallpaper in the Red Room to freshening up the drapes in the Green Room, Melania worked with the White House curatorial team on a number of projects. “In 2018, we completed the first full renovation of the Queen’s Bathroom since the 1950s,” she said. "Our goal of updating and restoring 'The President’s Elevator', which is used by the First Family, visiting dignitaries, and White House staff, was accomplished in the same year." She also replaced the rug in the Diplomatic Room (pictured), adding a border of 50 flowers to represent each state.
But Melania’s plans for the White House went beyond the cosmetic – she wanted to make structural renovations and so turned her attention to some big-scale projects. "In 2019 we embarked on a several months-long restoration of the East Room floor, which brought to life the true magnificence of this historic space. This was done in tandem with work performed on the marble floors of the State Entrance and Hallway." But perhaps her most lasting legacy can be found in the grounds...
Melania Trump was also keen to restore the White House's very own basement bowling alley – a space dating back to the Nixon administration – which was drastically modernized in 1994 under the Clinton administration. The work was paid for by the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America and involved reinstating the original wooden lanes, updated the electrical wiring and some machinery and touching up the interior design.
From breaking ground in October 2019 to completion in 2020, the Tennis Pavilion has been a passion project for Melania, who raised private donations to pay for the build. "History continues to unfold at the @WhiteHouse & I am pleased to announce the completion of the tennis pavilion. Preserving this historic landmark is vital & I want to thank all who helped complete this project," she tweeted.
Following in the footsteps on many first ladies before her, she also put her own stamp on the iconic Rose Garden. In a move criticized by some traditionalists, the red and yellow blooms were replaced with icy white flowers. She tweeted in August 2020: "Excited to honor history & celebrate the future in our beautiful @WhiteHouse Rose Garden this evening. Thank you to all who helped renew this iconic & truly gorgeous space."
However, Michael Beschloss, NBC’s presidential historian, took to Twitter on 7 August 2021 to bemoan Melania’s changes to the iconic garden. He tweeted: “Evisceration of White House Rose Garden was completed a year ago this month, and here was the grim result—decades of American history made to disappear”. Taking to Twitter to share a picture of the garden in bloom, alongside a fiery rebuttal, the former First Lady tweeted: “@BeschlossDC has proven his ignorance by showing a picture of the Rose Garden in its infancy. The Rose Garden is graced with a healthy & colorful blossoming of roses. His misleading information is dishonorable”.
Perhaps one of the boldest additions to the Rose Garden is the Isamu Noguchi's Floor Frame sculpture, unveiled in November 2020. Bought by the White House Historical Association for $125,000 at an auction by Sotheby's it was gifted to become part of the residence's expansive art collection and sits at the east terrace. She tweeted: "The art piece is humble in scale, complements the authority of the Oval Office, & represents the important contributions of Asian American artists.”
Before leaving the White House, Melania urged Jill Biden to carry on with a few of her pet projects. In her last official statement, she said: “The restoration and conservation of the priceless Zuber wallpaper in the Family Dining Room, perhaps the most ambitious project of the Administration, remains to be completed, and will be, I hope, admired by all who see its beauty.”
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