Leaving bad news behind


President Bush’s forays out of Washington have followed a clear pattern.

A mid-morning departure on Air Force One; brisk handshakes with dignitaries on arrival; a speeding motorcade into town; a quick grip-and-grin session with local pols and fat cats; a speech, generally less than 30 minutes, before a screened audience that the White House likes to call a "conversation"; and back to Washington in plenty of time for dinner.

Observed The Washington Post of Bush’s travel habits: "The president rarely travels domestically on the weekend and almost never spends the night in a city within easy flying time of Washington." With Air Force One, that’s a good chunk of the nation.

With his approval ratings hovering close to the freezing point, the president’s handlers are embarking on a strategy of having the president stay longer and be more visible on his trips.

This month he went to Chicago to celebrate his birthday and hold a rare press conference and actually do a "RON" — White House schedule-speak for "remain overnight." And he’s just concluded a trip where he left for Miami on a Sunday; ate in two prominent local restaurants; visited the National Hurricane Center, addressed a Coast Guard unit, toured the port of Miami _ all very photo-worthy; lunched with Republican leaders; and then back to Washington _ to be sure, in time for dinner.

As it happens, the longer trips follow a historical pattern going back at least to the Nixon administration: The worse the news in Washington, the harder it is to keep the president there. Next: Ohio and Texas and the ranch in Crawford.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)