Mitt Romney is undergoing the same type of scrutiny that other presidential candidates have endured when they went on vacation at an expensive or exclusive spot during their bids for the White House.
Romney has been spending a long weekend with his wife, Ann, their five sons, five daughters-in-law, and 18 grandchidren at his $8 million estate on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. And the media have been on the case.
News organizations ranging from the New York Times to the Associated Press are calling attention not only to the Romney holiday but also the posh surroundings that he and his family are enjoying. A Sunday Times story said the Romneys were "ensconced" at a "multimillion-dollar lakefront compound" in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Local residents were quoted speaking positively about Romney as a man who was nice to everyone and didn't flaunt his weath. But the Times also detected signs of an elitist sensibility.
"We hope we can stay as low-profile as possible," the candidate's son, Josh, told the newspaper. "And in reality, we hope America doesn't discover how cool this place is, because we love having it to ourselves."
Meanwhile, President Obama spent the weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland. But it appears that Obama won't be going on his customary summer trip to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, which has been criticized on the grounds that he was goofing off at an expensive resort while Americans were suffering from an economic downturn and high unemployment. White House officials have informed Massachusetts law-enforcement officials that the president and his family "are not coming this year," State Police Sergeant Thomas Medeiros told the Boston Globe. And it's also considered very unlikely that Obama will soon take another vacation in Hawaii, where he spent much of his adolescence.
Attention to—and criticism of—presidential vacation habits are nothing new. As I wrote in my book From Mount Vernon to Crawford: A History of the Presidents and Their Retreats, presidential vacations are frequent targets if they are at posh places or if presidents seem insensitive to the hardships being suffered by their fellow citizens. Such vacations are also criticized for costing the taxpayers too much money in security, transportation and other costs.
Ronald Reagan was criticized for spending too much time at his ranch near Santa Barbara, California. George W. Bush was similarly criticized for his frequent trips to his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Bill Clinton was criticized for vacationing at Martha's Vineyard.
Perhaps the closest parallel to the Romney estate in New Hampshire was the seaside estate of George H.W. Bush at Kennebunkport, Maine, another New England resort. Bush's aides warned him that vacationing in Kennebunkport could be a public-relations problem because the economy wasn't doing well at the time. But Bush said he wouldn't change his vacation plans because staying in Kennebunkport relaxed and refreshed him as a break from the rigors and pressures of office and of politics. This is likely to be Romney's explanation, too.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter.