President has proved to be a master of the carrot and stick.
The president has proved to be a master of the carrot and stick
Back in June 2006, I asked Donald Trump how he would operate if he were president. One of the first things he would do, Mr. Trump said, is to hold a dinner and invite “all of the people who are our friends and many of the people who are enemies to see if we can work things out.”
President Trump’s recent dinner at the White House with senators from both parties and their spouses and his pointed reference before TV cameras to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s presence was a start. But for a roadmap to how Mr. Trump will operate in Washington, take a look at his success in turning his Mar-a-Lago estate into a club that turns a profit of $15.6 million a year.
If the members of the Palm Beach Town Council had had their way, there would be no club. I remember that as I flew down to Palm Beach on Mr. Trump’s plane with him and my wife Pam, a former Washington Post reporter, to stay at Mar-a-Lago for my 1999 book “The Season: Inside Palm Beach and America’s Richest Society,” Mr .Trump gleefully imitated the nasal, constricted tones of Palm Beach’s blue blood Old Guard condemning his club because it promised to admit blacks and Jews.
To this day, several clubs in Palm Beach will not admit blacks or Jews as members. Mr. Trump believed that prejudice by Palm Beach Town Council members, some of whom belonged to those clubs, was in part behind their opposition to his plan to turn Marjorie Merriweather Post’s 1927 estate into a private club that would not discriminate.
To overcome the town’s opposition and get his club approved, Mr. Trump used the carrot and the stick. His Florida lawyer, Paul Rampell, who had come up with the club idea and persuaded Mr. Trump over a period of a month to accept it, sent DVDs of “Gentleman’s Agreement,” a movie about anti-Semitism in the 1940s, and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” about anti-black prejudice, to the mayor and each of the town council members when they tried to impose crushing restrictions on the club.
Their limits on membership, traffic, party attendance and even photography would have made it virtually impossible for Mar-a-Lago to operate as a club. None of those restrictions had been applied to clubs that discriminate.
The message behind sending the movies was clear: Mr. Trump was accusing town council members of bigotry. On top of that, Mr. Trump publicly referred to the trust fund babies who opposed his plans for Mar-a-Lago as the “lucky sperm club.” For good measure, he sued the town for $50 million.
At the same time, Mr. Trump unleashed a charm offensive. Guided by Mr. Rampell, who is Jewish and a lifelong resident of the town, Mr. Trump invited members of the town council to play golf or tennis with him. He invited them to glittering events at Mar-a-Lago, promising the men that gorgeous young women would be in attendance. Mr. Rampell helped raise money for one council member’s campaign and let her use his office for phone banks.
For town council members, sending the movies depicting prejudice was the last straw. “It’s like saying the emperor has no clothes,” Mr. Rampell tells me. “Discrimination by clubs was an unmentionable. … They expected [Mr. Trump] to bow to them. Donald was the extreme in the other direction.”
When the issue of allowing Mara-Lago to become a club came before the town council for a vote, one council member got so agitated he had to take nitroglycerin for his heart. A woman in the audience stared at Mr. Rampell, all the while holding up her middle finger. In its newsletter, the 1,800-member Palm Beach Civic Association referred to Mr. Trump as “the notorious New York developer and part-time Palm Beacher.”
In 1995, Mr. Trump was able to open Mar-a-Lago, and the club thrived. It now costs $200,000 to join — up from $100,000 before Mr. Trump became president — plus $14,000 a year in fees. In addition, the roughly 450 members pay for dining, shows and suites where they can stay overnight.
Mr. Trump paid $5 million for Mara-Lago in 1985. Based on sales of other Palm Beach property fronting on both sides of the idyllic 3.75-square-mile island, Mar-a-Lago is now estimated to be worth $300 million.
As Mr. Trump wrote in “The Art of the Deal,” Mar-a-Lago “may be as close to paradise as I’m going to get.”
In contrast to Barack Obama, who rarely spoke with Democrats in Congress let alone Republicans, Mr. Trump as president will continue his two-pronged approach, simultaneously counterpunching while cultivating both friends and enemies. In that endeavor, Mr. Trump will deploy one of his biggest assets: invitations to dine or stay at what he now calls the Southern White House.