As President Donald Trump’s last-ditch efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election fail, his actions and words are increasingly pointing to one likelihood: When his presidency ends, Trump will return to South Florida and remain a force in Republican politics.
“If I lost, I would say, ‘I lost.’ And I’d go to Florida,” Trump told a crowd of thousands Saturday in Georgia during a political rally on behalf of two Republican U.S. Senate candidates. “And I’d take it easy, and I’d go around and I’d say, ‘I did a good job.’ "
Though Trump continues to assail the validity of the presidential election and claim falsely that he, and not President-elect Joe Biden, won, he is also teasing a 2024 campaign. And he is giving every indication that when he leaves the White House next month, he will decamp to Mar-a-Lago, the private Palm Beach club he declared in late 2019 as his full-time private residence.
Such a move could make South Florida the new seat of power for the Republican Party, retain Mar-a-Lago’s draw as a place of political access, and complicate the future of Florida’s top GOP politicians, at least for the immediate future.
“Mar-a-Lago provides the ideal venue for a regrouping for Donald Trump,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a non-profit watchdog organization based in Washington, D.C. “It’s already been turned into a political resort.”
During his four years as president, Trump frequently spent weekends and holidays at Mar-a-Lago, where he entertained dignitaries and politicos. His resort doubled membership fees to $200,000, a king’s ransom paid by an assortment of figures seeking face time with the president and at least the illusion of access.
“It’s been a magnet for grifters who want to throw money at the feet of the president,” said Holman. “This is exactly the type of venue Donald Trump could make use of in solidifying connections with the powerful and wealthy and trying to make a political comeback.”
Secret Service members from Trump’s detail and the Miami field office have been asked if they would like to transfer to the resort, according to ABC. People has reported that renovations are planned at the Trumps’ Mar-a-Lago residence.
Trump, meanwhile, told attendees at a White House holiday event last week that he would “see you in four years,” alluding to a bid to return to the White House. On Sunday, Axios, citing two anonymous sources, reported that Trump is considering a campaign launch rally in Florida on Jan. 20 as Biden is being sworn in.
Trump has raised more than $200 million since Election Day, according to his campaign, with an unknown percentage of that going into a new political committee created last month to help fund his future ambitions. In announcing the fundraising numbers, Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, said “they show President Trump remains the leader and source of energy for the Republican Party.”
The perception that Trump is the frontrunner for the 2024 GOP nomination should allow him to continue to command the attention of politicos and dignitaries.
“If the president says he’s going to run in 2024, he’ll probably clear the field. He’ll be the Republican nominee, and he’ll spend the next four years running,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, viewed widely as a potential 2024 candidate, said Sunday on NBC’s “Impact” with Jackie Nespral.
Though Trump’s influence is already waning and will weaken further once he is out of office, his rally this past weekend in Georgia displayed his continued importance for Republican politics. Trump’s remaining power comes from his populism, and his unique ability to amass a coalition of previously apathetic voters, blue-collar workers and Latinos.
“There’s no other person who can duplicate that,” said Brian Ballard, a top Republican fundraiser and lobbyist in Washington and Tallahassee.
Trump’s potential as a 2024 candidate is also disrupting the plans of presidential hopefuls. His presence in Florida would complicate the upward mobility of Rubio, Gov. Ron DeSantis and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, all of whom reportedly have Oval Office aspirations.
Still, Alex Conant, a founding partner at Firehouse Strategies and the communications director for Rubio’s 2016 presidential run, said Trump’s physical location probably doesn’t matter as much as his social media activity and his appearances on conservative TV networks.
“Trump doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who’s going to spend a lot of time at Lincoln Day dinners after he leaves the White House,” said Conant, referring to the annual fundraising galas hosted by local GOP parties. “He’ll likely continue to throw big parties, whether it’s at Mar-a-Lago or in New Jersey. But the core of his political operation is his Twitter.”
But, noting the Axios report, Conant said Trump does continue to have a strong base in Florida, a state Republican presidential nominees must win to claim the White House.
“If his first post presidential rally is in Florida, then he will be cementing that strong support,” he said. “He’s the only Florida politician who can fill a stadium with supporters.”
McClatchy White House Correspondent Francesca Chambers contributed to this report.