There are no voters to woo here on Scotland’s wind-beaten coast, no donors to court or party officials to lobby. The schedule contains no huddles with foreign dignitaries, nor a visit to a sacred Scottish site—unless you count the golf courses that Donald Trump came to promote.
The man does things differently, and his first foreign trip as the presumptive Republican nominee is no exception. Trump’s 36-hour journey to his mother’s ancestral homeland is about publicity, not politics. Like so much of Trump’s approach, the brief visit, bookended by visits to a pair of trophy properties on opposite sides of Scotland, is a sharp break from the norms of presidential politics.
International trips have become a rite of passage for presidential nominees. They’re a chance to shore up foreign policy bona fides and prove to voters back home that you possess the grace and stature to represent the country abroad. In 2012, Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s made a weeklong summer swing through England, Israel and Poland, replete with bilateral meetings with foreign luminaries, serious speeches and stops at holy sites like Jerusalem’s Western Wall. Four years before that, then-Senator Barack Obama touted his vision for a new American foreign policy before a crowd of 200,000 at the Victory Column in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park.
Trump has a different kind of itinerary. The centerpiece is the ceremonial re-opening of Trump Turnberry, a sprawling luxury resort on Scotland’s southwest coast that has hosted the British Open four times. Trump bought Turnberry in 2014 and has been refurbishing the lavish property, which boasts a lighthouse built on the remains of a 13th century castle, suites that fetch four figures per night and three picturesque courses that plunge past grassy dunes down to the edge of the Irish Sea.
Trump was set to arrive—via helicopter—around 8:30 a.m., followed by a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, a photo op by the water and a press conference. On Saturday, Trump will visit Trump International Golf Links near Aberdeen, on the edge of the North Sea some 200 miles away.
In the eyes of some Republicans, the trip is a distraction that comes at the worst possible time. Trump’s campaign is reeling from a turbulent stretch that included a widely panned response to the Orlando tragedy, the firing of his campaign manager and a fundraising report that underscored dire shortfalls. He has fallen behind Hillary Clinton in national surveys and alienated GOP allies. And Trump is walking into a tumultuous political moment abroad as well, arriving the morning after Britain holds a nail-biting referendum on whether to exit the European Union.
None of this is as important in Trump’s eyes as business and family. Trump’s mother, Mary MacLeod, was born to Gaelic-speaking parents on the Isle of Lewis before emigrating to the U.S. in the 1930s. Trump has sought to play up these ties. In 2006, he was named one of the country’s global business ambassadors. The next generation is following suit: his son Eric Trump was heavily involved in the redevelopment of Turnberry. Each of Trump’s three eldest children, who are playing an increasingly central role in the campaign, will accompany him on the trip.
But whatever fondness Trump feels for Scotland, much of the nation no longer seems to love him back. Trump has feuded with local residents and politicians over his redevelopment plans, particularly for the Aberdeen course. During one long-running argument, over a proposed wind farm he says that would mar the Aberdeen property’s views, Trump compared the idea to the 1988 terrorist bombing of a jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland that killed 270 people.
After Trump proposed a ban on Muslim immigration last year, Scotland stripped the ambassador designation. A petition to bar Trump from entering the U.K. drew 586,935 signatures, prompting an official debate in Parliament Jan. 18. Hostile locals have prepared for his arrival by raising Mexican flags on their properties near his courses. “We welcome all Americans — minus Trump,” Alex Salmond, a member of parliament for the Scottish National Party, told Bloomberg News. “He’s not a popular person in Scotland.”
But to Trump, who sometimes appears to treat his campaign for the presidency like a brand extension, the trip is a chance for the master builder to showcase his business acumen. As staff prepared for Turnberry’s grand re-opening on Thursday afternoon, workmen touched up paint in the grand salons and a bagpiper patrolled a gravel path above emerald lawns that sloped down toward the sea. A supporter walked through the grounds wearing Trump’s signature red baseball cap, the legend tweaked to fit the setting: “Made Turnberry Great Again.” For a day, at least, the beleaguered candidate will get to focus on that.
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