Trump to return to a Florida rattled by virus, but with election loss on his mind
President Trump arrives in Palm Beach on Wednesday for his first visit to his adopted hometown since casting a vote for himself in an election he lost but in a state he won big — and where he will remain very much a political kingmaker.
The Trump administration still has a month left, but historians are already assessing the profound impact of the past four years on the presidency, and how the public will view the nation's highest public office going forward.
"Everything about the Trump presidency has been unconventional," said historian Robert Watson at Lynn University. "To the point where I've been joking with some friends that of mine that we are going to have to rewrite all the textbooks because he has violated everything we said, what every textbook said, was a truism of the office."
While in town for the holiday, Trump is expected to share season's greetings with military service members stationed across the world, perhaps on Christmas Day. Invitations have also been sent out for the Trump clan's annual New Year's Eve gala. In the past, celebrities and administration officials have attended that red-carpet affair.
There will also be numerous, if not daily, rounds of golf at his local club.
And Trump Nation says it will be out in force along Southern Boulevard to cheer the president as he comes and goes. Supporters will be gathering Wednesday to cheer the presidential motorcade from Palm Beach International Airport to Mar-a-Lago.
"Let's celebrate Christmas in a merry way because we all know who won the November 3rd election," said the email from Willy Guardiola, who organizes pro-Trump demonstrations in Palm Beach County. "Trump knows it ... and he will never concede, patriots!!"
Trump's holiday visit, his first prolonged stay since the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March, will come amid a local spike in coronavirus cases.
In Palm Beach County, where a mask mandate has been extended to Inauguration Day, COVID-19 cases have topped 77,000. Florida has recorded 1.2 million cases, and worrisome five-digit daily statewide increases have been typical since Thanksgiving.
The arrival of the long-awaited vaccines have increased optimism and buoyed hopes, although the number of people in Palm Beach County who have begun the inoculation process is lower than in other parts of the state. It's not clear whether the president will receive the vaccine before he arrives, or whether he will be inoculated while he is here.
Clearly, however, the president's focus, judging by his Twitter account, is neither the pandemic nor the vaccine but his quixotic attempt to overturn the result of the Nov. 3 voting.
"THE DEMOCRATS DUMPED HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF BALLOTS IN THE SWING STATES LATE IN THE EVENING. IT WAS A RIGGED ELECTION!!!" the president tweeted Tuesday in all capital letters in a social media missive that was labeled "disputed" by Twitter.
Trump's re-election defeat is scheduled to be reaffirmed — again — when the Electoral College votes are counted Jan. 6. The votes cast Dec. 14 will confirm President-elect Joe Biden's lopsided win, 306 to 232.
But Trump is adamant in his refusal to accept the result, as he has stiff-armed conceding to Biden after the failure of dozens of legal challenges and prior refusals by the U.S. Supreme Court to even hear a pair of challenges to election results.
Still, the president and some congressional Republican allies say they will contest the electoral vote in Congress next month.
One of those is U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Pensacola Republican. He told a summit of young conservatives in West Palm Beach this weekend that he would lodge an objection, albeit while simultaneously suggesting it was likely futile.
"The odds may be tough, it may be fourth and long, but we're going through it on Jan. 6," Gaetz vowed.
Trump has also reportedly been meeting with a ragtag crew of advisers, including conspiracy theorist lawyer Sidney Powell and pardoned former national security adviser Mike Flynn.
Powell's outlandish, baseless claims of electoral fraud have been snubbed by state and federal courts. And Flynn's alleged call for Trump to impose martial law in key swing states have been widely derided.
Nonetheless, Trump shows no signs of accepting the defeat and again vowed to fight on.
"We won this in a landslide," Trump told the Turning Point attendees by phone on Monday. "They know it. And we need backing from like the Justice Department and other people have to finally step up."
But on Monday, outgoing Attorney General William Barr again dismissed Trump's claims of election fraud. And televangelist Pat Robertson, though praising Trump's leadership in the White House, called his behavior since the election "erratic" and said it was time to accept that Biden will be president Jan. 20.
"It would be well to say, 'You've had your day. It's time to move on,' " Robertson said during his 700 Club show.
Trump's election challenge has proven lucrative, however.
While vote recounts failed to change outcomes, and a number courtroom defeats came coupled with scoldings from judges, Trump has reportedly raised in the neighborhood of $250 million. And the fine print on many of the emails asking for money for an "election fraud fund" gave Trump and his team latitude in how to spend the money.
In Florida, Trump remains highly popular among Republicans in rural counties, where he won by broad margins. He won the Sunshine State by 3.4%, a landslide in comparison to the narrow margins of victory by previous presidential candidates.
It's also a state where he has played political kingmaker and spoiler. His endorsement of Ron DeSantis paved the way for the former congressman to capture the governor's mansion while dooming the candidacy of Adam Putnam, who many establishment Republicans bet would be Rick Scott's successor.
Republican operatives say they expect Trump will play a key role in making or breaking GOP candidates' aspirations for office.
And with the president living at Mar-a-Lago, Palm Beach, in particular, will likely play a crucial in GOP fundraising, said Palm Beacher Blair Brandt, a political strategist and fundraiser who helped raise about $50 million at events in Palm Beach.
Recognizing the growing prominence of Florida in GOP politics and in particular Palm Beach, Brandt founded his own political consulting business to assist wealthy donors in deciding which candidates and committees they should back.
"I still believe the president is going to be the premier kingmaker and queenmaker in the Republican Party and I think most candidates will need his endorsement or want it," said Brandt. "Certainly the presence of the president and first family is going to be a huge part of that."
Floridians may play host to "huge a part of that" next month.
Trump is reportedly planning a split-screen moment on Inauguration Day. As Biden is sworn in as the 46th president on Jan. 20, media reports have said Trump plans a rally, perhaps in Florida, with an eye toward a potential 2024 comeback campaign.
"Florida would welcome our home state president anytime," state GOP chairman Joe Gruters said earlier this month. "It's obvious based on the results Florida produced that people love him here ... so it makes perfect sense if he does decide to have one here."
Watson, a historian and co-founder of the annual Truman Legacy Symposium at the Harry S. Truman Little White House in Key West, said all signs point to an equally "unconventional" post-presidency for Trump.
Don't expect Trump to be a deferential member, or a perhaps a member at all, of the ex-presidents club, Watson quipped. The fact that Trump never conceded defeat, did not embrace a transition to a Biden administration and has raised doubt about attending Biden's swearing-in points to that, he said.
Watson said he doubts a Trump presidential museum would be in the line of what previous presidents have.
Trump's post-White House focus — perhaps a TV network — won't be on a public service mission, like Jimmy Carter's efforts to monitor elections across the planet or Barack Obama's bolstering of civics education for young people of color.
"Trump is going to bring a whole new perspective, whether it's Trump Twitter or Trump TV, whatever he is going to do with the media to retain his relevance," Watson said. "And it's not going to be positive ... It's going to be whole different animal."
He added this assessment. "Unconventional, before during and after."