Blue-collar voter resentment building over Obama vacations?

It’s a tempting target against a demagogue who insists on making “fairness” an issue in every speech he makes, but will attacking Barack Obama over the costs of his family’s 17 vacations in three years resonate with voters?  The Washington Examiner reports on some focus-group testing performed by Republican pollsters among blue-collar Democrats in Ohio and Pennsylvania, two important battleground states, who claim that resentment is building over what is seen as a lavish lifestyle at taxpayer expense:

Blue collar Democratic voters, stuck taking depressing “staycations” because they can’t afford gas and hotels, are resentful of the first family’s 17 lavish vacations around the world and don’t want their tax dollars paying for the Obamas’ holidays, according to a new analysis of swing voters. …

McLaughlin handled blue collar and Catholic voters in Pittsburgh on April 3 and Cleveland on March 20. He found that they are very depressed about the economy and feel that their tax dollars are being sucked up by both the rich and those living on government assistance.

During the focus group discussions about debt and spending cuts, many in his group volunteered criticism of the presidential vacations as something that should be cut. Among the lines McLaughlin wrote down was one from a Democratic woman who said, “Michelle Obama spends $1 million to take the kids to Hawaii,” and another who said, “President Obama was the only president to take so many trips.”

The theme, said McLaughlin, is that the first family “is out of touch” with working class voters.

The pollsters conducted their focus-group testing well before Judicial Watch calculated the cost to taxpayers of just one of those vacations, Michelle Obama’s in Spain.  That trip cost nearly a half-million dollars to service the needs of the Obamas and their several guests:

Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and fights government corruption, announced today that it obtained documents from the United States Air Force and the United States Secret Service detailing costs associated with Michelle Obama’s controversial August 2010 vacation to Spain.  According to a Judicial Watch analysis, the records indicate a total combined cost of at least $467,585. …

  • According to U.S. Department of Defense’s 2010 published hourly rates, the total cost of flying Michelle Obama and her guests from Camp Andrews to Malaga and then to Mallorca and back to the United States was $199,323.75. This is based on approximately 17 hours and 15 minutes of total flying time.
  • The 15-member flight crew stayed at Tryp Guadalmar, a nearby motel. Lodging cost was $10,290.60 and car rental cost was $2,633.50. Food cost was $876.30, including $57.68 for four bottles of maple syrup and a package of pancake mix. …

Secret Service records, meanwhile, show that the costs to the agency for the vacation were $254,461.20. This total includes $26,670.61 for a chauffeur tour of Costa del Sol and $50,078.78 for a travel planning company SET P&V, S.L. (George Soros is 50% owner of the travel company.) Taxpayers also paid the bill for separate lodging for a dog and its handler.

In August 2010, Michelle Obama, her daughter and friends embarked on what the press described as a “whirlwind tour of Spain,” which included visits to the coastal towns, shopping and a lunch date with the country’s King and Queen.  While the White House claims the Obamas “paid their own way” for the vacation, the records detail some of the required security and other costs to taxpayers for the private trip.

The New York Times’ Caucus Blog acknowledged the political risk yesterday:

The White House said then that Mrs. Obama and her friends paid for their own rooms, food and transportation. The first lady reimbursed the government for the equivalent of first-class commercial tickets for herself and her daughter, Sasha, with the rest of the seats on her government plane occupied mainly by Secret Service employees. Her friends flew on separate commercial flights, the White House said at the time.

But as with every first lady, the cost of actually flying the government plane far exceeded the money Mrs. Obama reimbursed, and security is paid for by the government. Secret Service agents travel with any first lady when she leaves the White House, and they typically insist on government transportation to better secure her. Some aides came along as well because Mrs. Obama paid a courtesy call on King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia on the island of Majorca.

Obama told a reporter earlier this month that he has a growing family that needs to get out of the White House on occasion, which is both an assertion that no one disputes and is also missing the point.  Few families take more than one such vacation a year, not even families managing to do well in the stagnant economy.  Taking an average of five a year, with the considerable taxpayer expense involved, is something that most people will find excessive, especially when those vacations involve significant travel — like, say, to Spain, rather than Camp David, which exists for a retreat for Presidents and their families.  The Bushes, for instance, mainly vacationed at their Texas ranch, and even with that, Democrats used to gripe about Bush’s supposedly excessive vacationing then.

Hypocrisy is a powerful argument, especially against a politician attempting to play the populist card in an election.  Still, I wouldn’t necessarily count on this being a big hindrance to Obama garnering votes from committed Democrats, even in blue-collar states.  The economy will make more of an impact than Obama’s vacations.  The only impact this might have would be to blunt Obama’s attacks on Romney as an out-of-touch rich man, because I’d bet that even the Romneys haven’t taken 17 vacations in the last three years — and theirs would have been funded out of their own pockets.

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David Strom 6:41 PM on January 26, 2023