I think it’s time to talk about the presidential candidates’ pets.
Look, you need a break. And everybody – or almost everybody – likes an animal story. I’m not quite sure about Donald Trump, but we'll get to him in a minute.
Pets, particularly dogs, pop up all the time in White House lore. Richard Nixon might never have even gotten there if he hadn’t used Checkers the cocker spaniel as a diversion from a campaign finance scandal. Lyndon Johnson posed – for reasons we will never understand – picking up his beagle by the ears. The décor at one Obama White House holiday party was many variations on the theme of Bo. This tradition goes way back. James Garfield had a Newfoundland named Veto. Calvin Coolidge seems to have acquired four cats, seven birds, nine dogs, two lion cubs, a raccoon, a bear, a wallaby, an antelope and 13 ducks.
I used to enjoy occasionally pointing out that Mitt Romney had once driven his family to Canada with Seamus the Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car. A campaign consultant told me that the Seamus story elicited stronger reactions from focus groups than any other aspect of the 2012 campaign.
Donald Trump doesn’t have any pets, and the animal anecdotes about him seem to be … unsettling. Clinton has had a number of dogs and cats, but their stories are generally … kind of boring. While she was first lady, Clinton wrote a book called “Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets.” In it, you can learn that Socks the cat’s tail was one foot long.
Socks, the most famous of the Clinton pets, has since passed away. So has Buddy the Labrador retriever, who was replaced by another chocolate Lab named – yes! – Seamus. This is a total coincidence. Right now the Clintons have a couple of fuzzy little dogs along the poodle line.
If Trump has ever in his life had a pet, his campaign doesn’t know about it. There’s some question, in fact, about whether he’s ever even had an animal friend. For a while, there was a story about Trump begging for prayers for a Lab named Spinee who was undergoing major surgery. I am very, very sorry to tell you that this appears to be a total fabrication.
There are two colorful stories about Trump’s previous encounters with animals in books written by ex-employees.
The first goes back to the 1980s, when Trump was in his first bloom of glitzy celebrity and acquired a promising 2-year-old racehorse named Alibi. John O'Donnell, a former Trump casino president, wrote that the colt fell apart when Trump insisted, despite the trainer’s objections, that Alibi be worked out even though a virus was going through his barn. O'Donnell claimed Alibi got very sick as a result – so ill he eventually had to have some of his hooves amputated and was retired. Then, O'Donnell said, Trump announced that he was not buying a defective animal and backed out of the sale.
“Jack O'Donnell is a disgruntled former employee, and this is a totally unsubstantiated and false claim,” said a spokeswoman for the Trump campaign.
You decide who’s right. The one thing we do know for sure is that when Trump first bought Alibi, he changed the poor horse’s name to D.J. Trump.
The other, much less depressing story involves a chicken named Ginger, who once played tic-tac-toe with Trump at a casino near Palm Springs. Like so very many things in our world, the casino had Trump’s name on it, but it was owned by someone else – in this case an Indian tribe.
Perhaps you have never seen a tic-tac-toe-playing chicken, but they’ve been around a long time. According to Gary Green, another former Trump casino executive who wrote a book, a computer under the board lit up a square, and if the chicken pecked it, said bird got some corn. Hey, it’s a job.
After the game was over – Trump won – Green ran an advertising campaign that featured Trump firing Ginger and starting a Chicken Apprentice contest for a replacement. While Ginger’s fate was not described explicitly, the casino started serving chicken wings as part of the promotion.
Beyond that, connections between Trump and the animal kingdom seem pretty sparse – if you ignore Jane Goodall’s recent comment to The Atlantic that his performances “remind me of male chimpanzees and their dominance issues.” Bloggers have pointed out that Trump tweets a lot of unflattering dog references. (“… cheated on him like a dog …”) It is true that he does seem to specialize in insult via canine analogy. I once got a letter from him suggesting I resembled a dog. He did not seem to be thinking about my large, friendly eyes.
If he wins the election, we could have the first president in history to refuse to pardon the Thanksgiving turkey.