From Palm Beach Post Nov 16, 2018
PALM BEACH — Florida truly is the Sunshine State for President Donald Trump.
Republicans just suffered their worst U.S. House drubbing since Watergate and Trump’s national approval ratings are underwater. He drew international criticism this month for missing a ceremony at an American cemetery in France to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
But Florida is different. With narrow victories by Trump allies Ron DeSantis in the governor’s race and Gov. Rick Scott in the U.S. Senate race, the president can point to major political successes that he helped orchestrate in his adopted home state as he begins a new season of visits to his Mar-a-Lago compound.
Trump is expected to return to Mar-a-Lago this week for Thanksgiving. And if the past two winter seasons are any guide, the president will be a frequent weekend visitor in the months ahead for activities ranging from golf to international diplomacy.
Trump last visited Mar-a-Lago in April, a trip that included meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He’s made five other Florida visits since then. One was to address a convention of police chiefs in Orlando and another was to survey damage in the Panhandle from Hurricane Michael.
Trump’s three other Florida visits were for political rallies aimed at the midterm elections — a considerable expenditure of political capital that paid off in Florida’s nationally watched races for governor and U.S. Senate.
DeSantis, who clung as closely to Trump as any candidate in the nation this year, won the governor’s race by 0.4 percent over Democrat Andrew Gillum, who called for Trump’s impeachment and urged voters to use the election to send “an unapologetic message” to DeSantis and Trump. Gillum conceded Saturday.
Trump appeared with DeSantis at a July 31 rally in Tampa to help him win the Republican nomination for governor. He appeared with DeSantis and Scott at two rallies in the final week of the general election campaign to drive GOP turnout for their campaigns.
Trump’s national approval rating was a dismal 38 percent in the latest Gallup poll. But among people who voted in Florida’s midterm elections, exit polls found 51 percent approving of Trump’s job performance and 48 percent disapproving.
Trump’s visits to Mar-a-Lago typically include some official business as well as socializing with members of his for-profit club and golf outings to his nearby Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach.
Trump friend Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of conservative NewsMax Media and a member of both Mar-a-Lago and Trump International, said the president’s Palm Beach visits are “a big positive for him. He’s very relaxed. It’s a time for him to recharge. And I think he uses it for feedback from friends and people he meets down here ... He can go beyond the Beltway bubble.”
But the feedback has its limits, Ruddy said.
“The idea that somebody can be a member and then have private conversations with him is preposterous. There’s a virtual rope line around him if not a real rope line,” Ruddy said.
Trump has tapped four Mar-a-Lago Club members for ambassadorships. The most recent, Palm Beacher Lana Marks, was nominated this month for the South Africa post. Longtime Trump friend and charter Mar-a-Lago Club member Robin Bernstein was confirmed in June as ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Philanthropist Patrick Park was picked as ambassador to Austria but turned the post down, citing family responsibilities. Palm Beacher Brian Burns turned down an ambassadorship to Ireland for health reasons.
Burns is founding chairman of the Palm Beach Policeman’s Ball, which has held its annual fundraising event at Mar-a-Lago for years. Several other charities moved their events from Mar-a-Lago during the uproar over Trump’s equivocal 2017 remarks about the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. But some nonprofits are beginning to return to Mar-a-Lago for the upcoming season, including the Palm Beach Habilitation Center and Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.
Outside Mar-a-Lago, Trump supporters and opponents regularly try to catch the president’s eye when he is in Palm Beach County.
When Air Force One arrives at Palm Beach International Airport, a group of Trump supporters is usually there to cheer him on.
Sue Snowden, who in 2015 signed on as the unpaid Palm Beach County chairwoman of Trump’s 2016 campaign, helps organize the tarmac gatherings from a list that mainly includes people who worked on Trump’s campaign.
“We like to show the president that Palm Beach County is Trump country. That’s why we’re there,” Snowden said. “It’s a real privilege to have a president in your county, the winter White House in your county.”
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