Florida welcomes one more senior citizen as Trump heads to new home

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Richard Luscombe in Palm Beach, Florida
·5 min read
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<span>Photograph: Adam Delgiudice/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Adam Delgiudice/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump departed the White House on Wednesday with the promise: “We will be back”. But on Thursday the now former US president was awakening to a different reality as the newest of Florida’s 4.5 million senior citizens with time on their hands.

Visually at least, the first days of Trump’s post-presidency will look little different from his final ones in office. A Secret Service ring of steel surrounds his Mar-a-Lago resort on Palm Beach island; nearby roads remain closed to locals and gawkers; and the tees of the beloved golf courses he visited so frequently over the past four years await his imminent presence.

Related: Hello, Mr Resident: Is Palm Beach ready for the Trumps to move in?

But with the loss of the trappings of presidential power comes an unfamiliar challenge: how does a twice-impeached, disgraced former president chart a path forward as a private citizen and retain political relevance in the face of an upcoming Senate trial that could see him barred from a future White House run?

“I think he’s going to set up shop with Palm Beach as the headquarters of his post-presidency Maga movement,” Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach county, told the Guardian, referencing the Make America Great Again mantra from Trump’s single term in office.

“It’s definitely going to create drama, commotion, traffic and a lot of media attention. He will continue to be a lightning rod and he will continue to be the talk of the town as long as he is here.”

“I don’t think it changes the way people think about him, he will always have his supporters and always have his detractors.”

Impeachment is only one of Trump’s headaches as he traverses back to private life. Lawyers have written to Palm Beach commissioners representing neighbours who don’t want him there. An agreement Trump signed decades ago, they insist, prohibits him residing at Mar-a-Lago – a designated resort – for more than seven consecutive days, and 21 days in a year.

Trump has clashed with authorities before, suing the town of Palm Beach for $25m in a dispute over the height of a flagpole and battling over the construction of a helipad that must now be torn down.

Trump has changed his address to his Mar-a-Lago resort but neighbours are contesting his right to spend more than 21 days a year there.
Trump has changed his address to his Mar-a-Lago resort but neighbours are contesting his right to spend more than 21 days a year there. Photograph: JLN Photography/Rex/Shutterstock

“Donald Trump has had a history of disputes with the town of Palm Beach and this is no different,” Aronberg said. Even during his presidency there was a dispute over the installation of a boat dock at Mar-a-Lago and the town forced him to withdraw his request. Even the chandeliers in the grand ballrooms were the subject of litigation.

“So this is nothing new, it’s just the latest chapter in the ongoing saga between Donald Trump and the town of Palm Beach. The contract could forbid him from living at Mar-a-Lago, but I think that the dispute will end in a settlement as these things generally do,” Aronberg said.

In his farewell address from the Andrews military base on Wednesday, Trump promised: “We will be back in some form,” believed to refer to chatter that he intends another run at the presidency in 2024. A day earlier, in a video message from the White House, Trump said: “The movement we started is only just beginning.”

Florida, where Trump is surrounded by friends and supporters, would seem to be the ideal place to build such a campaign. The state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, is fiercely loyal. Florida has two Republican senators, one of whom, Rick Scott, voted against certifying Joe Biden’s election victory; and several other rightwing politicians in the state have carried the Trump banner, notably congressman Matt Gaetz.

“Florida is Trump country and always will be. Look at the people here, his people, we have his back,” Julio Ramírez, of the group Latinos for Trump, said on Wednesday as he joined thousands of flag-waving Trump supporters lining the route from Palm Beach airport that the ex-president’s motorcade took to Mar-a-Lago.

“He’s not going to be relaxing here, I can tell you. He said he would be watching what happens with Biden and he will.”

Thomas Kennedy, a newly elected member of the Democratic National Committee representing Florida, which voted twice for Trump, agrees with the assessment. Kennedy also wonders if the “in some form” part could be a reference to Trump’s daughter and adviser Ivanka, who with her husband, Jared Kushner, has purchased property in Miami and is said to have political ambitions of her own.

Several flags circulating among supporters who turned out to greet Trump on Wednesday bore “Ivanka 2024” slogans.

“Trump is popular in Florida. He changed his residency to live here, his kids are moving here, Ivanka and Kushner, Don Jr, Eric and Tiffany, they’re going to be a presence,” Kennedy said.

“There are rumors Ivanka is going to run against [Florida senator Marco] Rubio, or Don Jr will run for some kind of political office, and I certainly think they’re going to become pests.”

Another reason Trump feels at home in Florida is the plethora of rightwing alternative media based here, including Newsmax and the Rush Limbaugh Show. However, one previously ultra-loyal stream of Trump support in Florida appeared to have dried up on Wednesday when the Miami-based Proud Boys reconsidered and declared the ex-president to be “a total failure”.

One more annoyance for the newly – retired Palm Beacher will be low-flying aircraft over Mar-a-Lago. For the four years of the presidency, flight paths in and out of Palm Beach international were steered away for security reasons. That privilege ended on Wednesday, and among the first planes to disrupt Trump’s peace and quiet was, perhaps fittingly, the empty Air Force One on its way back to Washington.