Palm Beach, Florida
I’d visited Mar-a-Lago before, briefly. This longer trip was my chance to get better acquainted with the Mar-a-Lago set — and to catch up with my old friend Donald Trump. On arrival, the first thing that struck me were the cars. Line upon line of convertible Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. Membership costs a cool $250,000 a year — so the place is full of very successful men and women.
This is new money and a world apart from the Bush family and the old guard, country-club Republicans. With an associated beach club and golf club, this is a playground for the rich. The atmosphere is one of people having a great time. The restaurant and bar area is full of well-dressed and attractive ladies and gentlemen. Still, I’m not quite sure why the older men and women think that quite so much plastic surgery makes them look better. That sort of thing is not for me.
Since the election last November, Mar-a-Lago has taken on a new significance. For the last six months, it has been Donald Trump’s HQ. On my first day, I am taken to his offices. He is hard at work. My immediate impression: how well he looks. He’s been playing plenty of golf, taking exercise and lost a lot of weight — I would say somewhere in the region of 15 to 20 pounds. It was a meeting of friends and, as ever, I would never disclose exactly what was said, but what I saw was a steely determination from a man who always bounces back.
In the 40 minutes that I spent with him, we discussed a whole range of issues. He listens to what other people say far more than many would believe. As the Wuhan lab-leak story grows in credibility, it is now astonishing to me that the mainstream media branded the idea a ‘conspiracy theory’ — simply because Trump was pushing the idea. It is even more remarkable that Sir Nick Clegg has decided that Trump should suffer a further two-year ban from Facebook, the world’s largest social media platform.
Whatever efforts the liberal elite make to silence this man, we have not heard the last of him. And I certainly would not bet against his running again and winning in 2024.
On the first evening, I attended a fundraising event for military veterans. It was all beautifully done and emceed by Lee Greenwood, a Republican favorite since the days of Ronald Reagan. There is a proud patriotism in America, but people are not embarrassed by it. And the evening began with the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem.
To see the way that America treats its veterans is very moving. We have come on a long way since the days of Vietnam. This special treatment is not only evident at Mar-a-Lago, but even at airports where veterans get to board planes early. Britain could learn a great deal from the US on this matter.
Trump entered the room to give the keynote speech and the audience stood and cheered loudly as he made his way through. Love him or hate him, this man has an extraordinary magnetic appeal, the likes of which I have never, ever seen. Melania is not just extremely beautiful but carries herself in the most remarkable way. As any other president’s first lady, she would have become a global star.
Trump is like the king of a medieval court. He wields enormous power — and the future of the conservative movement is very much in his hands. Any talk of breakaway movements or splits within the party will come to nothing. He is still in charge.
My visit may have been social, but the hordes of prospective senators, governors and congressmen who all come flocking to Florida, desperate to get an appointment with Trump, have very good political reasons for doing so. His support within the grassroots of the party is phenomenal, as strong as ever. And a Trump endorsement is the way to win a primary battle.
At his spiritual home, we see a relaxed Trump meeting and greeting everybody in his very charming way. I just wish at times we saw more of this side of his personality in public. But here he is surrounded by family and friends and life is good. If I’d recently celebrated my 75th birthday and lived in these circumstances, I think the temptation to enjoy life and make money again would be overwhelming.
Somehow, I don’t believe that this man will take the easy option.
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