The new center of Trump’s political world: Palm Beach

The new center of Trump’s political world: Palm Beach

January 1, 2021

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The center of gravity for the MAGA universe is moving zip codes with President Donald Trump.

In anticipation of Trump setting up permanent residence at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach after leaving the White House in January, Trump allies, conservative media firebrands and MAGA-boosting activist groups are setting up the next Trumpy hub of GOP power.

Some Trump supporters have settled in South Florida, drawn by Florida’s friendly tax climate and the state’s current GOP leadership. Other prominent MAGA groups, like the student organizing outfit Turning Point USA, are holding events in the area. And the next Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual gathering of the GOP’s most conservative factions, will even be held a couple hours drive north, in Orlando.

Meanwhile, the president and First Lady Melania Trump are renovating their private quarters at Mar-a-Lago to prepare for a permanent return. And, with an eye toward their political future, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have reportedly bought a multi-million dollar property in an exclusive part of Miami. The Trump kids plan to spend more time in Palm Beach, unless Eric’s wife Lara Trump ends up running for Senate in North Carolina, according to a person close to the family.

Taken together, the moves will inevitably make the Palm Beach area and Florida ground zero for the MAGA movement, giving Trump convenient access to potential donors and some of his most devoted allies as he plots a potential 2024 comeback bid. Unlike previous presidents, like Barack Obama and George W. Bush, who quietly entered their post-presidency and spent time working on their books or picking up oil painting, Trump is expected to cannonball into his next chapter by keeping a hold on his political base with the help of his family, antagonizing the Biden administration on Twitter, and holding MAGA events. Supporters will continue to flock to Palm Beach, even as it grates on many long-time residents, who see their locale as a quiet enclave above politics and are fighting the president over a permanent move to Mar-a-Lago.

“You’re seeing a lot of conservative influencers talking about Florida and it’s creating an environment where … people are looking for safe havens where their ideology is being manifested in the world around them,” said Blair Brandt, a Palm Beach-based political consultant and Republican fundraiser who served as the Florida finance co-chair for Trump’s reelection campaign.

The president’s anticipated move to Palm Beach is part of a broader movement by prominent Trump-supporting Republicans to head south to Florida. According to Bloomberg, real estate inventory in Palm Beach is down 75 percent due to high demand, and the island’s exclusive clubs, like Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, have long waiting lists.

Some Trump allies and prominent conservatives have recently made the move to South Florida — including conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who moved from Los Angeles, and Fox News star Tucker Carlson, who is a legal Florida resident. Radio host Rush Limbaugh has a home in Palm Beach, and Trump-friendly Newsmax, run by Chris Ruddy, a longtime friend of Trump, is based in West Palm Beach.

Trump has long reveled in the attention lavished on him at his Mar-a-Lago Club, which has become a drive-by destination for fans and a place for allies of the president to see and be seen. Last week, Turning Point USA held its black tie gala at the resort — a who’s-who of Trumpworld, with White House officials like Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany taking selfies with maskless young fans.

During his most recent visit, however, the president did not mingle with guests the way he has in the past and kept mostly to himself, according to one club member. Some members shelled out $1,200 for New Years Eve gala tickets at the club, hoping to catch a glimpse of the president and first lady and be entertained by 90s rapper Vanilla Ice, but were disappointed when the president suddenly decided to return early for Washington for reasons unknown.

But with the clock running out on his term, Mar-a-Lago’s expanded neighborhood is widely expected to become the new home for the Trump movement in exile.

Trump “adds a star quality there on a much more permanent basis,” said former White House press secretary and Newsmax anchor Sean Spicer. “The idea of Florida Republicans having good access to the president is a big deal. Having the star power of the president is a big deal and Palm Beach is already a massive fundraising destination for Republican candidates.”

Brandt noted that his job as a fundraiser, connecting wealthy conservatives in Palm Beach to the Republican Party, will get a welcome jolt with Trump constantly nearby.

“He’s going to be translating the power of the presidency into a political machine, which no one has done in Trump’s way before,” Brandt said. “But to have someone like Trump who’s an operator and needs stuff to do, he could be really influential to Republican fundraising.”

But while GOP operatives in Florida are happy to orbit near the new center of the Republican universe, many longtime residents are rolling their eyes. While they’re breathing a sigh of relief that traffic congestion from road closures will be coming to an end, they’re anxious about what Trump’s permanent presence might mean — including a potential presidential library and museum that could become a tourist destination for MAGA world. One adviser to Trump even envisioned a kind of Trump-themed amusement park.

“I completely understand why he and his whole family wants to be in Florida,” said Matthew Swift, a Palm Beach resident and founder of the non-partisan Concordia Summit. “The president is incredibly popular here,” he noted, but added, “people are certainly curious how it will work with the development of a presidential library and any other center the president plans to develop.”

No matter what, Trump will still have a Secret Service detail, but not the kind of security footprint – with barriers and no-fly zones – that comes with being a sitting president.

Before Trump even formally moves to Palm Beach, some potential neighbors have already raised concerns about him living at what he calls his “Winter White House” full time, claiming he agreed not to use the club as a full-time residence. In the past, the president has clashed with the town over planes flying over the club, and he’s expected to butt heads with the community over the use of his helipad on property.

Multiple people close to Trump said that even though renovations are underway at the club, the small size of his Mar-a-Lago space might push him to find other property in Palm Beach, and they expect him to buy a separate house on the island.

Yet some Palm Beach residents, even those who are Trump supporters, say at the end of the day nothing will really change.

“Palm Beach has always been a place above politics, if you will. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans or Rush Limbaugh or whatever,” said Guido Lombardi, a Mar-a-Lago member and Palm Beach resident. “Some people here cater to the personalities they feel like they should be shaking hands with.”

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