In Augusts past, there always seemed to be a theme to President Bush’s vacation visits to his Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas. Aside from weekly excursions for official business and politicking, in 2004 it was brush-clearing time as Bush donned safety glasses and hacked away at the mesquite and live-oak trees on his 1,600-acre spread. Last year was the mountain-biking vacation, where Bush—whose doctors have grounded him from jogging because of gimpy 60-year-old knees—led reporters and friends on biking trails and handed out “Peloton One” biking socks to the survivors.
Not this summer.
Unlike last year’s five-week hiatus, Bush will go to Crawford for little more than a week in August. If there’s a theme, it’s “avoid political trouble at all costs.”
Last year’s vacation was not a political win for Bush. It began with antiwar mom staking out the ranch, demanding a meeting with the commander in chief. It ended with Hurricane Katrina, which forced Bush back to Washington after the federal government seemed to botch recovery operations.
In between, Bush was hit with higher gasoline prices, reminding Americans that they were paying record-high prices while he was enjoying a vacation. Some Bush advisers believe that vacation began the plunge that dropped his approval ratings into the 30s.
“It became a symbol of him being out of touch, even though a president is always working,” one friend says.
Aides say Bush made the decision to cut his vacation short this year. With midterm elections in November and gas prices still high, the President didn’t want to give Democrats another excuse to bash him for being out of touch.
Woodcutting and biking will be squeezed in with some fishing at the lake outside the door of the presidential ranch house. Like his father, Bush loves fishing. Asked by a German reporter about his best moment as president, he replied: “I would say the best moment was when I caught a 7½-pound largemouth bass on my lake.”