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Long a salesman, Trump rarely takes bully pulpit on the road

No one is mistaking President Donald Trump for being the salesman in chief.

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Jeff Zeleny
Dan Merica (CNN)
WASHINGTON (CNN) — No one is mistaking President Donald Trump for being the salesman in chief.

Before winning the White House, he made his name -- and fortune -- by selling Trump-branded real estate, steaks and a university. But despite now occupying the world's most powerful office, Trump has spent far less time selling his agenda.

He's been hitting the road, including a trip to Dallas on Wednesday, but is making no stops on that trip to publicly promote his tax plan.

"The President likes his rallies," an administration official said, "but he likes staying in the White House more."

First, officials said his travel to promote his agenda was interrupted because of the hurricanes that struck Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Then, his schedule was altered by the Las Vegas massacre.

The reality is more complicated, CNN has learned. Several trips have shown up on preliminary internal White House schedules in recent months, officials say, only to be removed as the week approaches.

The President's trip to Texas is primarily for a campaign fundraiser, but he is not scheduled to deliver a public pitch for his tax plan. He visited South Carolina last week, but his appearance was also limited to a closed-door fundraising speech. Trump has traveled to Missouri, North Dakota and Indiana to promote his tax plan.

In fact, his bully pulpit rarely leaves the White House, a striking change from his bid for the presidency, where he devoted more time traveling across the country than most other candidates, including Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

In the month of October, Trump has devoted only one trip outside Washington to promote his tax plan, a brief visit on October 11 to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where he didn't leave the airport.

Lawmakers, Trump said during his Pennsylvania event, "better get it passed," putting distance between himself and the plan.

"We're going to get those Republicans and maybe a few of those Democrats to raise their hands," he added.

An administration official said the President's travel is expected to increase in November, after he returns from a trip to Asia, when he turns his focus more to pushing the tax plan as it moves through Congress.

Promises made

White House officials insisted a month ago the President would hit the road to sell tax reform once or twice a week. That hasn't happened.

His lack of travel to sell tax reform has become a trend in his approach to legislation, even as Trump touts himself as the ultimate salesman with a knack for closing deals.

As Congress debated Trump's plan to overhaul the health care system, Trump remained at home, despite White House officials pushing him to hit the road to sell the bill. Exasperated, administration officials told CNN before the final push that Trump does not plan to play a larger role in selling the bill, leaving the sale job to negotiators on Capitol Hill.

Some of his distance was that Republican negotiators worried that Trump's knack for telling people what they want to hear would complicated the process. But as health care sputtered on Capitol Hill, even Marc Short, Trump's legislative affairs director, admitted that the White House -- led by Trump -- could do more to sell the bill.

"There's more we could do to educate the public," he said.

The lack of presidential salesmanship on the most important item on the GOP agenda has baffled -- and frustrated -- several Republican members of Congress.

A senior Republican congressional adviser said the White House has repeatedly promised the President would take more of a leading role promoting his agenda, including trips across the country that haven't materialized.

"We need the President to use his unique bully pulpit for this -- not for other distractions," the adviser told CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid alienating the White House.

Stark change

It's a stark change from many of his predecessors, who hit the road at least once a week -- often more -- to push their legislative agenda. Along the way, they gain significant attention and draw favorable local news coverage, overtaking controversies back in Washington.

President Barack Obama was known for shedding his jacket and rolling up his sleeves as he pitched health care reform town halls. He held campaign-style rallies outside of shopping centers in Minneapolis and lead thousands in chants of "Yes, we can." Obama event canceled an overseas trip days before it was scheduled because of a House vote.

Trump, who ran as an outsider on a pledge to "drain the swamp," seems to have become surprisingly comfortable in Washington and in the trappings of the White House. He held forth for 45 minutes in Rose Garden last week, for example, and relishes showing off the Oval Office.

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