PALM BEACH — On the bridge leading to Donald Trump’s doorstep and some of America’s wealthiest, most perfectly shrubbed waterfront estates, a man in a red, white and blue cape shouted via bullhorn about the deep state. Behind him, pickup trucks flying enough flags to block out the sun blasted classic Skynyrd.
Wearing neatly tucked T-shirts in muted colors and golf hats, a retired couple watched from the sidewalk across the street.
“We come down once in a while to see the show,” said Mike Jone, nodding toward the MAGA gathering that typifies this traffic-choked strip of Southern Boulevard approximately 600 feet from the entrance to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. “We are what we are — we are Republicans — but we’re not into that.”
The former president’s ability to mobilize masses of supporters, at least from the Jones’ vantage point, showed signs of wear and tear in buttoned-up Palm Beach.
“This is quiet,” said Freda Jone. “There were a lot of people when he was running. A lot of people after the raid.”
Three days earlier, the former president had taken to his own social network to announce what he framed as his imminent arrest. Tuesday was the day, he said, that New York officials would charge him for crimes related to hush payments to adult entertainment star Stormy Daniels. “PROTEST,” he wrote in all caps. “PROTEST, PROTEST!!!”
A gaggle of journalists arrived at the bridge to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate Tuesday wondering how massive a crowd they’d find, but at noon, their numbers equaled the Trump supporters. The entire group was modest enough to allow a tally:
Three Trump-styled pickup trucks and a Jeep; seven people waving Trump flags on a grassy median; three protesters holding signs (“drain the swamp,” etc.); approximately six more Trump supporters just hanging out; 11 video cameras on tripods; four vehicles marked with TV news logos; approximately 16 journalists, five cops and one hovering helicopter.
“More are coming later,” said Sandy Galloway, a Trump supporter who declined to say what city she lived in. “Just wait until later.”
“We could have more out here,” said Robert Fix, 54, of Loxahatchee. “But the media is taking up half the parking spaces.”
It didn’t help that construction had eaten up some prime parking, and traffic forced some hopeful attendees to trudge up the bridge on foot.
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In the days since Trump’s post, political pundits have compared his call for indictment protests to his calls for action before the Jan. 6 insurrection. Analysts speculated that this week’s crowds, or lack thereof, would reveal what power Trump maintains to rally supporters into the streets. Might that also hint at how Trump stands to fare in the 2024 presidential election against a possible challenge from Gov. Ron DeSantis?
One bridge near an ex-president’s home on a weekday afternoon holds no certain answers, and anyway, the Trump supporters the Tampa Bay Times approached on Tuesday were more keen to speak on other topics: the “great awakening” of the “144,000 chosen ones,” “predictive programming in science fiction movies,” numerological clues hidden in the date and time of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the insidious rise of the “quantum banking system” and a confounding, unsubstantiated theory on DeSantis getting banned from Guantanamo Bay.
Pushed for answers on the topic at hand — Trump’s alleged Stormy Daniels payoff and possible indictment — they mostly agreed: Trump committed no crime. He might be arrested, they allowed, but he will never go to jail. They felt sure this whole situation should only make him more popular.
All agreed they like DeSantis, as long as he does not run against Trump.
“He’s a smart guy, he’s done good things for the state, but he needs to stay in his place,” said Fix, who flew flags for the governor during his reelection campaign. “There’s absolutely no reason for him to run against Trump.”
West Palm Beach resident Williams Christian fished from a small, rocky beach on the north side of the bridge, far enough away from the commotion to almost ignore it. Pushing his hook through a bait shrimp, he shook his head no when asked if he was surprised at the protest’s modest size.
The crowd, he said, was typical of waning Trump demonstrations recently, unlike the “thousand people” who showed up here after the August FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago in search of classified documents. He thinks Floridians have maybe moved on to DeSantis. He doesn’t really care. He didn’t vote for either of them.
“Don’t believe the hype,” Christian said. “The ones out there now just want to be on TV.”
As for living in proximity to a celebrity ex-president billionaire and one of the most divisive figures in recent history?
“There’s so many rich people here,” said a barista working in a Palm Beach cafe about a mile from Mar-a-Lago. “He’s just another rich guy. … Sometimes the traffic is annoying.”
And some don’t feel Trump’s presence at all.
Along South Flagler Drive, another fisherman, 77-year-old Charles Howell Sr., wearing a Vietnam veteran ball cap, cast his line from a folding chair. The president’s estate and its iconic pink tower rose clearly on the horizon across the lagoon, but at this distance, even the helicopter was silent.
“What’s it like,” I asked him, “to sit here with Mar-a-Lago right there?”
“Mar-a-Lago? Is that it?” he asked. “Nah, that’s not it. I think it’s farther down somewhere.”