A Tampa Bay Times special report
Donald J. Trump has a story he liked to tell early in his campaign to win Florida.
The first time he told it, he had 144 days to go before the Florida primary. He was in front of hundreds of people at a rally at Trump National Doral, which was fitting because the story is all about how he bought the South Florida golf resort in the summer of 2012.
The story goes that he and his daughter Ivanka walked into closing with a contract to buy Doral for $170 million. But when it came time to do the deal, Trump told the crowd, he got the sudden urge to show off.
There he was, Trump said, staring across the bargaining table at the other dealmakers, who all were beautiful men, "like from a movie, better looking than Tom Cruise," and who were wearing red suspenders and had gone to the best schools. And what did Trump do? He started ranting like a lunatic about the terrible shape the property was in.
Within about two minutes, Trump told the crowd, the movie stars in red suspenders took $20 million off the price tag. He got the place for just $150 million. And then he tore it down and built it up again.
This is what he wants to do with America, he said. Acquire it, gut it to the steel and remake it in his own image.
It didn't matter on this night that the story Trump told was exaggerated. That Ivanka was said to have worked out most of the deal by herself. That people on the other side of the deal believed Trump had overpaid for the property by as much as $60 million — even at the lowered sale price — and were giddy at landing such an unexpected windfall. That contractors Trump hired to make the resort great again were filing liens against him because he hadn't paid them for their work. That rooms in the redone hotel could be booked, same-day, on Priceline.com for $160, which is $9 cheaper than rooms at the nearby Courtyard Miami and $109 cheaper than the Marriott Vacation Club just a few blocks away.
None of that mattered to the crowd at Doral on Oct. 23, 2015. What mattered was the image being put in front of them.
Florida is key to the image Donald Trump is peddling to the world. It's home to the most potent symbol of his wealth and accumulation, his Palm Beach estate, Mar-a-Lago. It's the site of one of the first golf courses he ever built. It's studded with the sort of glitzy condo buildings and beachfront high rises he wants his name on.
But for every totem here that showcases his power and savvy, there's also an episode that reveals his limitations.
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Read this special report now at tampabay.com/trumpflorida.