Palm Beach County is gripped by election fever. Lawns signs from both parties have popped up on every residential street, highway and byway. Given the fairly even distribution, there’s no clear majority. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has committed $100 million to the Biden campaign in Florida– a hefty sum to allocate to one state, even a toss-up one with 29 electoral votes. Many of my friends who have returned here from New York are committed to Biden, but they don’t vote in Florida. Others with homesteader status to avoid New York income taxes have come down early to vote in person. Some are skeptical of voting by mail in Florida. My local friends are still fervently committed to Trump. At all levels of education and economics they still believe in Trump and nothing he says or does will change their minds. The latest Twitter rant from the Oval Office, or excerpts from the Bob Woodward book, Rage, don’t move them a bit. They’ve heard it all before. Florida is a big state with a diverse population. From Miami to Jacksonville to St. Augustine, there is a wide range of voter sympathies. In my conversations with people on both sides, it seems many are voting for the man not his policies. The boat brigade from Jupiter to West Palm, past Mar-a-Lago, who display their Trump flags with pride all along the Intercoastal, seem outdoorsy, water-friendly types. Then there is the gang that stands at the entrance to the bridge to Mar-a-Lago. Unmasked, bearded, tattooed, waving their flags, hoping to catch a glimpse of the President. If asked, they will tell you Covid is a hoax. Florida is not an open carry state, but I have seen their type around town with guns slung over their shoulders in flagrant defiance of the law. Scary folks. Any firepower is concealed at the bridge, which is closely monitored by the Coast Guard, Secret Service and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Department. Cross that bridge and enter the manicured grounds of Mar-a-Lago, the palatial former estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post that now serves as the President’s Florida White House, and the cohort of Trump supporters couldn’t be more different. The composition of the typical black-tie guest is educated, sophisticated, professional, wealthy. Do they believe in the man and his policies? They turn a blind eye to everything but his economic policies, which impact them the most. A strong, albeit volatile stock market benefits them more than any concerns about a national plan to deal with Covid 19, or inhumane immigration practices or rioting in the streets. If the tax rate is friendly, they don’t mind any of that. They’re not bothered that our traditional allies have been demoted and dictators have been elevated, because Trump’s efforts to bring peace to the Middle East means more to them. Several of my Trump-voting friends and acquaintances are single-issue voters for that reason alone.
Recently I had lunch at Trump’s International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. It reminded me of a delicatessen on Third Avenue in New York City: the menu, the clientele, even the black-and-white photos on the walls of the men’s room (all of Trump, of course); reflections, perhaps, of his New York roots. Now, with Florida as the battleground, will the personal fortune of a former New York mayor thwart the Presidential re-election of a New York real estate magnate? We’ll have to wait for Election Day to find out.