WASHINGTON — Long before he ran for president, real estate developer Donald Trump had a vision for state dinners that called for construction — specifically, the building of a big, beautiful White House ballroom.
Presidential candidate Trump regularly spotlighted a second, sharply different take on the events: They should feature a menu borrowed from the nearest drive-thru — or be canceled altogether.
But on Tuesday night, more than a year after his inauguration, President Donald Trump will attend his administration's first state dinner, with nary a ballroom nor a burger in sight.
The event, planned by first lady Melania Trump, honors France's President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte. White House officials say Trump has steered clear of the planning process. But over the years, he's shared plenty of ideas.
Two years ago, then-candidate Trump may not have been measuring the Oval Office drapes — but he was already envisioning what White House dinners held during his presidency might include, and what they might not.
Referring to events honoring visiting leaders from China and other nations, Trump scoffed at the splendor and spending involved. He told a Sioux City, Iowa, rally crowd that if North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited the United States, he would get Trump's acceptance — "but I wouldn't give him a state dinner like we do for China and all these other people that rip us off when we give them these big state dinners."
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"We give them state dinners like you've never seen," he said. "Forget the state dinners — that cost, by the way, a fortune."
Speaking to an Atlanta crowd ahead of the Republican National Convention that year, Trump had a more specific cost-saving entertainment concept in mind. "We shouldn't have dinners at all," he said. "We should be eating a hamburger on a conference table."
But he didn't just think the White House was thinking too big. He also thought they weren't thinking big enough.
Before President Barack Obama's re-election, and for years afterward, Trump recounted a call he said he had had with Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, when he offered to commission five American architects to build a collapsible ballroom worth $100 million — free of charge — in which the White House could host state dinners.
"I notice they always put tents up on the lawn," Trump said at a Sioux City event in 2016. "Number one, it's not a good security thing. Number two, the guy that owns the tents is making a fortune."
Trump claimed that Axelrod never responded to the offer.