It was only a matter of time before President Donald Trump inserted himself into the restaurant drama involving his press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, being kicked out of a restaurant last Friday.
Sanders was kindly asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant on Friday night in Lexington, Virginia, after the owner of the establishment had asked her employees what action they wanted to take upon seeing a member of the Trump administration enter their doors.
Sanders tweeted her experience, using her government-issued social media account to criticize the restaurant, which was likely a breach of ethics standards set for executive branch employees.
Government officials aren’t supposed to use their positions of power “in a manner that is intended to coerce or induce” private sector employees or business owners to act in a way they desire. Sanders, in tweeting her criticisms, clearly violated those standards, according to former White House ethics head Walter Shaub.
“She can lob attacks on her own time but not using her official position,” Shaub said.
On Monday morning, Trump entered the foray by stooping to low levels of condescension and direct insult toward the business owner.
“The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” Trump tweeted out. “I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!”
The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 25, 2018
If Sanders’ tweet from her @PressSec account had been questionable in violation of ethics standards, Trump’s undoubtedly crossed the line. He’s clearly using his official capacity as president to retaliate against a business he personally disagrees with.
Shaub agreed, tweeting that Trump's tweet is also in violation of ethical standards.
p.s. Trump’s Red Hen rant would also violate the misuse of position regulation, if he followed the tradition of trying to act as though it applied. But this walking conflict of interest has chosen to hold himself to a lower standard than the federal workforce he supervises.— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) June 25, 2018
Executive branch officials are not supposed to use their official capacities as public servants to request or coerce businesses to behave a certain way. In their criticism, Trump and Sanders are using public resources (official social media accounts) to create a negative impression of the business.
To end this criticism from Trump, Sanders, and others, the business would have to change its policy or apologize for its actions. The continued onslaught of negative statements from Trump and his press secretary are transparent attempts to coerce Red Hen to do something that the administration wants it to do, which goes directly against the ethics rules established.
Beyond the ethics violations, however, Trump is displaying an unusual form of sour grapes, using Sanders as a proxy to his disdain of a business owner that has qualms with his administration. Trump seemed to think the restaurant was wrong to refuse service to Sanders, but at the same time, he said the restaurant is too filthy for the standard of his own liking. The two contradict one another, making it difficult to ascertain which Trump would have preferred, his staffer getting properly served, or his staffer not going to the restaurant in the first place.
Such inconsistencies are not uncommon in the Trump administration. The cognitive dissonance that Trump displays has been noted on several occasions and makes it difficult to understand what goals this president actually has, or how to properly engage him to have a real discussion on important political topics.
The transgressions between Sanders, Trump, and the Red Hen restaurant aren’t likely to affect any substantive policy, but they are indicative of this administration’s refusal to follow (or even acknowledge) the rules that they must govern by. The president’s inconsistent message is also alarming and demonstrates how confusing it is for lawmakers or foreign leaders to negotiate with him in fair terms.
Regardless of how you look at this incident, the president is behaving in less than flattering ways, and his administration should reserve their criticisms for more appropriate forums. The condescending ways in which the president attacks his detractors is also deeply disturbing.