Humbled Trump seeks warmer welcome in Florida

By: AFP      Published: 11:33 AM, 17 Jan, 2021
Humbled Trump seeks warmer welcome in Florida

President Donald Trump will leave Washington in disgrace next week, destined for a warmer welcome in Florida, where some supporters are so gung-ho they recently wrote his name on the back of a fat, lumbering manatee.

Days after suffering the ignominy of a second impeachment, Trump will skip his successor Joe Biden's inauguration and depart early Wednesday for his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida. Apparently, he plans to live there.

There are also signs his adult children will decamp south to be near their father, who was cut off from Twitter and other social networks that were his megaphone after being widely accused of instigating the January 6 assault by his supporters on the US Capitol.

Locals can already be heard whispering, angrily, "There goes the neighborhood." They are not happy with the prospect of Trump settling among them.

Last month people in Palm Beach sent the city council a letter recalling that under a 1993 agreement, Mar-a-Lago was not zoned as a full-time residence.

That letter, published by The Washington Post, states that use of the living quarters at the golf resort "shall be limited to a maximum of three (3) non-consecutive seven (7) day periods by any one member during the year."

The resort denies that the 1993 accord contains this restriction.

The Post noted that the president already spends large amounts of time at the resort in violation of this rule, and he is expected to put up a fight against those who do not want him around.

But that's only the beginning of Trump's Mar-a-Lago woes.

This week Palm Beach County officials issued the resort a warning over a New Year's Eve party at which guests did not wear masks or observe social distancing rules.

Trump's son Don Jr had posted a video of the festivities showing people dancing to 1989 hit "Ice Ice Baby" by the rapper Vanilla Ice, who performed live. 

The county warned that any future violation of pandemic restrictions would mean a fine of $15,000.

- Solid base -

"The Trumps may be surprised to learn that the voter rolls in the three main South Florida counties -- Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade -- are dominated by Democrats," said Craig Pittman, a Florida native and the author of five books on the state.

"In fact, the congressional representative for the district that covers Mar-A-Lago, Lois Frankel, has voted not once but twice to impeach her most famous constituent," Pittman said.

Still, over the past four years Trump has built up a solid base of support in Florida, mainly among non-urban white people and conservative Latinos.

One of his most loyal followers is Miami Cuban-American Enrique Tarrio, a leader of the right-wing Proud Boys group.

Trump's support is so strong in Florida that last Sunday a live manatee was found with "Trump" etched onto its back.

But after the assault on Congress, Trump is on thin ice.

Al Cardenas, former chairman of the Republican Party in Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times that Republicans in the state are terrified of losing the support of people who back Trump.

Dozens of Trump supporters rallied outside the Miami home of Republican Senator Marco Rubio, calling him a traitor for his support in Congress to certify Biden's win and reject Trump's baseless allegations that the election was rigged.

- Reality at Mar-a-Lago -

With the Trump family's arrival, the US gossip press will be busy.

Chatter for now is centering on Tiffany Trump, the president's 27-year-old daughter, who according to the tabloid Page Six is shopping for a house while she lives in South Beach.

The same news outlet reported last month that Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, an advisor to the president, have bought a $30 million lot in Indian Creek Village, an island north of Miami Beach known to be one of the most expensive places in the country.

Donald Trump Jr and his partner Kimberly Guilfoyle are said to be looking for digs in Jupiter, north of Palm Beach.

All this begs the question: What will the Trumps do once installed in Florida?

"Perhaps once they find a suitable place to settle down here, the Trumps will find a fresh outlet for their energies, as the post-presidential Jimmy Carter did with Habitat for Humanity," said Pittman.

"There are plenty of poor folks in Florida who could use their help," he said.

But, referencing one of the president's more infamous moments, in which he visited Puerto Rico hurricane victims in 2017, Pittman added: "It would need to be something more substantial than just tossing them rolls of paper towels."

- Brand tarnished -

Donald Trump shot to prominence with a business empire that bears his name, but after four years of political tumult capped by his supporters' violent attack on the Capitol, the US president's brand stands tarnished, threatening his businesses, experts say.

Companies that stuck with Trump throughout his term are cutting ties in an 11th-hour stampede, including Signature Bank which closed Trump's personal accounts and the PGA of America which scotched a plan to hold its 2022 championship at Trump's New Jersey golf course.

Such announcements not only reflect the business community's skittishness to proximity with a widely-condemned figure, but further hem in his company, already hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and the looming loss of US taxpayer revenue tied to Trump's visits.

The president's role in the Capitol calamity that killed five people and drew international shock has generated withering criticism from diverse groups ranging from the Business Roundtable to the AFL-CIO labor federation. 

Trump's "name is really an albatross," said Michael D'Antonio, who authored a 2015 biography of Trump, adding that January 6 was a game-changer for the president's brand.

"He is the most disgraced president in history. This is a person who's synonymous with a mob attacking the US Capitol," he said. "I just think this went a step too far."

Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, said Trump's brand will suffer long-term damage due to the chaos.

"Before his term, Trump stood for wealth, success and over-the-top luxury," he said. "Now the brand has associations with anti-government views, racism and extremism. This makes the brand fairly toxic."

- Mixed bag -

Recent reports in US media, including The Washington Post, have chronicled low occupancy at Trump properties in Washington and Chicago as the US contends with the Covid-19 crisis.

In addition, Trump owes some $400 million to Deutsche Bank, which reportedly also plans to halt business with Trump after the Capitol siege.

Trump's company did not respond to written questions from AFP. 

The president has dismissed business challenges, stating in an October 15 televised event that the $400 million is "a tiny percentage of my net worth."

Assessing the state of Trump's finances is difficult because of the opaque nature of government disclosure information and the private status of the Trump Organization.

However, winning the presidency has most certainly cost the company some business, as when the Trump Organization bowed out of a luxury hotel in Soho, New York, where the president is unpopular.

The overall impact of Trump's presidency on his business is really hard to estimate, said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

His sons, Don Jr and Eric, who now run the Trump Organization, had floated a pair of new hotel chains, Scion and American Idea, aimed at the "red states" that are home to large portions of Trump's base.

But the brothers pulled the plug on the venture in 2019, citing obstacles which they blamed on political opponents. 

- New directions? -

In spite of these setbacks, Trump's properties have enjoyed a reliable stream of taxpayer revenue courtesy of the president's regular stays at his clubs and golf courses where he is joined by White House staff, family and Secret service.

CREW estimates that Trump's properties garnered over $100 million from more than 500 visits by the president, according to a September report.

The document criticized Trump for some 3,400 conflicts of interest tied to hotel stays by foreign governments or lobbyists and fundraising events by other politicians, such as Representative Jim Jordan, who defended Trump during last week's impeachment debate.

Bookbinder said the president should have completely divested himself of his business at the outset of his term. Instead, he used his presidency to promote it, while his sons became vocal champions of his presidency, effectively "melding" Trump's business and political endeavors.

That decision could limit the brand's ability to appeal to consumers outside his political base. 

"What you have now is a smaller but extremely devoted cult following," Bookbinder said.

D'Antonio thinks Trump is likely to shift away from his legacy businesses and evolve into "sort of a TV, political evangelist," perhaps creating his own widely-floated television network then charging fans to watch it.

Under such a scenario, Trump might sell current assets to pay off his Deutsche Bank debt, which D'Antonio said could mean "there may not be any Trump towers or Trump hotels or Trump golf courses 10 years from now."

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.