Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Sarah Sanders and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also have fundraisers scheduled at the club this weekend. And Saturday night, the Republican National Committee has reserved Mar-a-Lago for a 400-person banquet. The price tag for that dinner: more than $100,000, according to a person involved in the planning.
The GOP is still Donald Trump’s party. The clearest proof of that: It is still finding ways to pay Donald Trump money.
Since Trump left office, at least six Republican candidates have held fundraisers at the former president’s Florida properties. This weekend, at least six more events will be put on by GOP-allied groups.
The events show that Trump has maintained his status as the party’s central figure, even after the violent effort by supporters to overthrow the election results on his behalf, and a post-presidency exile in which he has rarely left his own property.
That control has allowed Trump to continue his unprecedented and lucrative business relationship with his own party. Republicans will pay Trump just to be where he is — or even, in some cases, where they hope he might be.
“We would love to see him. If he came and spoke to the group spending the weekend here, that would be great. If he came and played golf and people watched him, I mean that would be great, too,” said Amy Kremer, a conservative activist who is holding a summit this weekend at another Trump property, his golf course in Doral, Fla.
Kremer, whose group sponsored the rally that preceded the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, said the group had not been told Trump would visit. But they had done everything possible to encourage it: “We’re happy to be at a Trump property, and we would absolutely love to have him.”
Trump’s business arm, the Trump Organization, did not respond to a request for comment.
Jason Miller, a spokesman for Trump, said he was not aware of the president asking anyone to come to Mar-a-Lago. He does not need to, Miller said.
“Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach are the center of the Republican universe right now,” he said. “All Republican roads lead to Mar-a-Lago. He’s the biggest name in politics, and everybody wants his support and endorsement.”
Before Trump ran for office, his hotels and clubs hosted very few political events. But that changed in 2016 — when Trump won the presidency and, earlier the same year, opened a D.C. hotel catering to political fundraisers.
Over the next four years, Trump’s businesses took in more than $11 million from Republican candidates and groups, turning campaign donors’ money into private revenue for the president and his family. Republican groups justified this by saying that Trump charged market rates and that GOP donors felt comfortable on the president’s property.
Now, Trump’s company is facing a difficult moment.
Its revenue dropped sharply in 2020, because of the coronavirus pandemic and political backlash against the Trump brand. Then many of its key business partners and vendors cut ties with the company after Trump’s efforts to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election and his role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol in January.
The company also has lost revenue from two key customers tied to Trump’s career in politics. One was the U.S. government, which paid the Trump Organization more than $2.5 million during his presidency, often to house aides and the Secret Service agents protecting him and his family at his properties. The other was Trump’s own 2020 reelection campaign, which had spent more than $7 million since 2017 at Trump properties for rent, ballroom rentals, legal fees and other expenses.
It is unlikely that the GOP groups that have held events at Mar-a-Lago this year have offset those losses.
But, for Trump’s company, they provide a reliable source of revenue in a trying time. A $100,000 dinner is a $100,000 dinner, regardless of who signs the check.
“Can campaigns and political groups actually make up what he’s losing?” said Jordan Libowitz, the communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Probably not. But I expect Donald Trump to do everything he possibly can to fill that hole.”
Since Trump left office, he has spent almost all his time at the Mar-a-Lago Club, where he has both a private apartment and a new office in the club’s old bridal suite. The club’s members applaud him every time he shows up for dinner, and again when he departs. Aides say he rarely feels the need to leave the grounds, except to play golf at his own club nearby.
So Republicans come to him.
Some just come for meetings, to pose for photos or videos that can be shared on social media, as a political imprimatur. The bridal suite has hosted a who’s who of politicians looking for what Trump calls his “total and complete endorsement” of their plans, among them House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), and a range of senators and candidates. On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.) stopped by.
“We discussed a range of topics, including the border crisis, election integrity, the state of the Republican Party, and the 2022 elections,” Hagerty said. Other visitors say Trump has spoken of exacting revenge against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other Republicans he thinks have wronged him.
Others reserve a ballroom, hoping to coax him into an appearance by setting up within walking distance of his home and his office. The price tag for these recent events is unclear: Campaign spending records for 2021 have not been filed yet, and the campaigns themselves have declined to say.
“If you want him to attend your event, your best chance is to have it at the club,” said one current Trump adviser, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to comment frankly. “He’s not looking to travel all over.”
The six Republican candidates who have paid to reserve ballrooms at Trump’s clubs include Sen. Mike Lee (Utah), Gov. Ron DeSantis (Fla.), Gov. Kristi L. Noem (S.D.), U.S. Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard (Ala.) and U.S. House candidate Max Miller (Ohio). Sanders, the candidate for Arkansas governor who served as Trump’s press secretary, held an event at the club a few weeks ago and is returning for the second this weekend.
Republicans say one benefit of these visits is that they can meet Trump’s Florida friends and club members — all potential donors. At Miller’s fundraiser, held at Trump’s West Palm Beach golf club, Trump spoke for at least 30 minutes, a person said, and packed the room with his Florida acquaintances.
“Not the traditional Republican donor set,” a person with knowledge of the event said.
Another benefit of these events for his fans is the chance to see Trump himself.
“Honored to have received a surprise visit from President Trump at my event this weekend!” Blanchard wrote on Twitter after Trump dropped by her Mar-a-Lago fundraiser in March. “I can’t wait to build on the MAGA Agenda and deliver results for the people of Alabama!”
That event showed, however, that showering Trump with money is no guarantee of his support.
Three weeks after Blanchard rented space at Mar-a-Lago for her event, Trump endorsed one of her opponents: Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.). Brooks was a vocal supporter of Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election and of Trump’s failed effort to overturn it.
This weekend’s events at Mar-a-Lago began Thursday, when the Conservative Partnership Institute — a group led by Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — held a dinner to open a two-day summit at the club. Trump’s lengthy speech followed an introduction by DeSantis. Trump spoke about frustration with “RINOs” — Republicans in Name Only — the U.S. border with Mexico and President Biden’s perceived failures there, Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 election and voting law efforts, while telling donors to support CPI, a person with knowledge of the speech said.
On Friday, Florida lobbyist Brian Ballard was hosting a lunch fundraiser for Rubio at Mar-a-Lago. Tickets cost from $2,900 to more than $10,000, according to an invitation reviewed by The Washington Post. Trump endorsed Rubio on Friday morning.
On Saturday night, the RNC will bring more than 400 people to the club. The committee is holding a larger donor retreat at a nearby Four Seasons resort — but it moved this dinner to Trump’s club. That was a friendly but expensive gesture from party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, made at a time when Trump was publicly criticizing the party.
Republican officials said that many of the donors wanted to go to the club, and that McDaniel also is meeting privately with Trump while in Florida. On Saturday night, DeSantis is expected again to be onstage with Trump, the only elected official slated to speak alongside the former president.
Also this weekend, Kremer’s group — Women for America First — is hosting 200 people at Trump’s Doral course. Kremer said she did not know how much it would cost. Among the speakers: Trump ally Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who is under federal investigation into whether he had a sexual relationship with an underage girl. Gaetz has denied any impropriety.
On Thursday, the women’s summit began with a golf tournament. There was no promise that Trump would visit, making the 73-mile trip from Mar-a-Lago.
But among attendees, there was hope.
They were his fans. This was his business. Why wouldn’t he?
“It would be awesome if, during this time frame, he crashed the party,” said Dana Daniel, an attendee from Georgia.
“That would be so awesome!” said Bay Cagle, another attendee, pumping her fists in the air. Cagle sang the national anthem at the Jan. 6 rally in Washington but said she returned to her hotel room afterward and did not participate in the storming of the Capitol.
“I hope that he does crash the party,” Daniel said.
Unfortunately for her, Trump remained at Mar-a-Lago, where he spoke to the other conservative group that had pined for a visit from the former president.
Rozsa reported from Doral, Fla. Michael Scherer and Anu Narayanswamy contributed to this report.