Donald Trump declares victory from his 17 chandelier palace in Florida

The Republican ensured that, along with his branded Trump hand towels, he was to host the most moneyed election party night the world had ever seen

David Usborne
Miami
Wednesday 16 March 2016 04:20
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Mr Trump lavished love on his supporters, but his eyes were trained on the cameras
Mr Trump lavished love on his supporters, but his eyes were trained on the cameras

The meringue excesses of the DJT Ballroom at Mar-A-Lago – the 17 giant chandeliers reflected in the polished marble floor – promised a dainty Disney princess, perhaps, or a tiny-toed ballerina.

Or was Marie Antoinette about to step from behind the stage’s lusciously-lit drapery? She did have big hair.

Those initials surely left little room for confusion; nor did the disposable towelettes in the gents beneath the stairs, imprinted with a gold coat of arms bearing the now very familiar letters: T-R-U-M-P.

This is the lair of Donald Trump, an extravagance sat on the spit of land that is Palm Beach. There are no modest homes here, but his mansion, which he has turned into an exclusive club, is the grandest of them all.

Built in 1927 by a cornflakes heiress, Marjorie Merriweather Post, it indeed stretches from the sea to the lagoon, hence its name. It has secrets too, like a tunnel leading directly to the beach.

And so it was he who strode to the podium to bask in the spoils of another big Tuesday of primary voting. But this was no normal election night rally.

We, the reporters who been graced with invitations, were a small tennis court away from the candidate. Between us and him were two hundred-odd of his Palm Beach pals, most of them paying members of the club, arrayed on rows of gilded banquet chairs.

It was, in other words, the most moneyed election night party the world has ever seen. And the mood was happy indeed, with all the victories their champion had clocked up. Perhaps only their arrival had tried their patience, Bentley’s jostling with reporters’ rentals in the club driveway.

That Mar-A-Lago is so lavish sits just fine with Darleen Soave. With her husband George – him splendid in cream summer linen, her sporting a gigantic diamond pendant on her bronzed chest – she had learned before Mr Trump spoke that they had been accepted as members.

17 chandeliers lit up the ballroom

“I love him and I want to be here with him,” she said with a gush. “I just got my package and everything from the manager.”

Yes, he spends a lot of money keeping Mar-A-Lago fabulous, she says, casting appreciative eyes at the Versailles coffered ceilings, “but he gives to charities, and to veterans” too.

Most of them not spring chickens, some in the audience still couldn’t sit as Mr Trump began to speak. He is their energiser.

“Sit down everyone please, I mean this is Mar-A-Lago, we have seats!” Mr Trump declared. He slathered his guests with love, even if his eye was trained really on the cameras at the back.

Branded towels were at guests' disposal

It was, of course, a monologue mostly of self-congratulation. He was winning, he opined, even with the hurricane of attacks unleashed by his enemies.

“Nobody has ever, ever in the history of politics, received the kind of negative advertising that I have. Mostly false, vicious, horrible.” The crowd, suddenly less genteel, was clapping and whooping, so he pressed on: “Lies, deceit, disgusting reporters.” (It’s a wonder we were allowed in, except of course that it isn’t.)

The event had been advertised by the Trump campaign as a press conference. Yet he entertained no questions, sweeping off stage right when he was done. He had achieved what he needed, reminding America of his newly found political prowess.

The night itself could have been a little better for the developer and former reality TV host. In spite of campaigning in the state heavily, Mr Trump failed to steal Ohio from its sitting Governor, John Kasich, who now will plod on, even though that is the only state he has taken so far. He did sweep Florida, and Mr Rubio into the political wilderness, and also took North Carolina and Illinois.

Gushing guests gather by the pool

In Missouri, he was in a tight race with Senator Ted Cruz, who survives as his closest rival.

For much of the early going of his speech, Mr Trump dwelled on a new poll in The Economist showing him with 53 per cent support among Republicans, countering the narrative of doubters that he can’t break that magical 50 per cent barrier that would put him on a safe path to the nomination.

It is a daft argument, he said, because this hasn’t been a two-person race. (Though it became a three-way contest on Tuesday as Marco Rubio dropped out.)

“I have to explain to these people, they don’t understand basic physics, basic mathematics. We are four people, we are four people, you have to understand. So when you get 53, that’s an amazing achievement.”

Yet while a herd of elephants could fit in the DJT ballroom, only one was necessary on this important night. It looms, but he wouldn’t speak about it. It’s that pesky math again.

Mr Trump’s loss in Ohio makes it much more likely he will fall short of taking the simple majority of delegates he needs to avoid a contested Republican Party convention in July, never mind the poll in The Economist. And while he might survive an all-out brawl on the convention fall in Cleveland, he might not.

And then he’d have to give up his president-in-waiting performance and go back to club owner.

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