On Thursday night, the Mar-a-Lago Club hosted a dinner for more than 100 people, put on by a conservative activist group, at which its owner, former President Donald Trump, spoke for more than an hour. On Friday, the club was booked again, for a lunch fundraiser to benefit Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
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, there will be at least six more events put on by GOP-aligned groups.
The events show that Trump has maintained his status as the party’s central figure, even after the violent effort by supporters to overthrown 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 he ran for office, Trump’s hotels and clubs hosted very few political events. But that changed in 2016 — when Trump won the presidency and, in 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, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and political backlash. Then many of its key business partners and vendors cut ties with the company after Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his role in the Capitol insurrection.
The company has also lost revenue from two key customers tied to Trump’s career in politics. One was the U.S. government, which had paid the Trump Organization more than $2.5 million during his presidency, often to house aides and Secret Service agents 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, of 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 then 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 a meeting, to pose for a photo or video 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, from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to Sen. Rick Scott to a range of senators and candidates. On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Bill Hagerty, the Tennessee Republican, 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 and other Republicans he believes 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 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 candidates who have paid to reserve a ballroom at Trump’s clubs include Utah Sen. Mike Lee, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Alabama Senate candidate Linda Blanchard and Ohio House candidate Max Miller. Sanders, the candidate for Arkansas governor who served as Trump’s press secretary, held one event at the club a few weeks ago, and is returning this weekend for the second.
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 the room at Mar-a-Lago, 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 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 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 Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Trump spoke about frustration with “RINOs” (Republicans in Name Only), the southern border with Mexico and what he called President Joe Biden’s failures there, false claims of fraud in the 2020 election and voting law efforts, and the need to support CPI, a person with knowledge of the speech said.
On Friday, Florida lobbyist Brian Ballard was to host 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 Republican National Committee 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 Chairperson 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 is also meeting privately with Trump while in Florida. DeSantis is again expected to be onstage with Trump Saturday night, 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., now under federal investigation into whether he maintained 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 himself 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.
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Rozsa reported from Doral, Fla. The Washington Post’s Michael Scherer and Anu Narayanswamy also contributed to this report.