Irish Daily Mail

The $100m war chest that could fund America’s scariest sequel

He holds court like the Sun King and STILL says the election was stolen. And just when you thought you’d seen the back of The Donald, he’s raised a fortune in a bid to retake the White House

- from Tom Leonard

HE SPENDS his days on the golf course and his nights in his palace – the gilded Rococo splendour of his Florida country club home, Mar-a-Lago.

Donald Trump may be ruler of a much-diminished empire these days, but he still behaves like royalty.

He’ll often be found in his ‘throne room’, Mara-Lago’s ornate grand lobby. There, dressed in his obligatory dark suit and tie, and his face caked in his famous bronze make-up, Trump sits on a low armchair in the middle of the room. And as his courtiers – a court heavy on buxom blondes, it must be said – mill around admiringly under a gold leaf ceiling decorated with winged griffins, he receives important visitors or talks loudly on the phone.

Many have come from Washington: Republican­s desperate to guarantee his support before next year’s crucial midterm Congressio­nal elections. The ex-president is revelling in his new role as kingmaker.

Lucky visitors may be given a bound copy of 1,000 Accomplish­ments Of President Donald J. Trump: Highlights Of The First Term – which comes in at 92 pages long.

Trump usually dines in the adjoining patio restaurant, a fawning audience of aides, fans and club members standing to applaud when he walks in. And if ever they are bored, as he harps on for hours at a time about how voter fraud robbed him of the 2020 election – ‘the greatest fraud ever perpetuate­d in this country’ – they do their best to conceal it.

If his wife and former first lady, Melania, is in residence, they eat at a roped-off table in the centre of the restaurant – ‘looked at like zoo animals’, according to Trump watcher, author and journalist Michael Wolff.

Now, as high summer makes life in Palm Beach unbearably hot and sticky, the ‘zoo’ has temporaril­y moved north to New Jersey, where it’s installed at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster – another of his myriad super-smart golf resorts – close to New York. Aides portray Trump as insanely busy as he plots a glorious political comeback, even going so far as to choose his running mate in a 2024 presidenti­al election that will return him to his rightful place in the White House.

Just days ago, his former chief of staff Mark Meadows described Trump as ‘fully engaged, highly focused and remaining on task’, adding that his ‘cabinet’ members wouldn’t be holding meetings with him if ‘we weren’t making plans to move forward in a real way with President Trump at the head of that ticket’.

Nobody has ever described a man said to have the attention span of a goldfish as ‘highly focused’ or ‘fully engaged’ on anything, except perhaps his golf drives.

So has someone caught a little too much of the Florida sun? Will there ever be a comeback? After all, most people must have thought they’d heard the last of The Donald – at least politicall­y – after he slunk out of the White House on January 20, hours before his successor Joe Biden was inaugurate­d and two weeks after his supporters stormed the US Capitol with his encouragem­ent.

The man who’s been impeached twice for abusing his power headed off to Florida and the estate he’d dubbed the ‘Winter White House’ in ignominy, a handful of supporters forlornly lining the route clutching messages of support.

And yet, once again, Trump seems to be defying expectatio­ns.

Last week, it was reported that the former president has already amassed a $102million (€87million) ‘war chest’ thanks to donations from supporters great and small, who answered his strident online demands to help him expose the vote-rigging and save democracy.

Money is all in US politics and Trump has reportedly raised more of it than any other Republican.

His closest rival, Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only black Republican in the US Senate, has raised less than $8million.

Republican Party sources outside Trump’s circle suspect a lot of this talk about election planning is hot air and scoff at the idea that he has a ‘cabinet’.

They say party elders would privately prefer Trump to simply go away and that his continued influence only helps Democrats by allowing them to tar any Republican associated with the divisive Trump.

But they can see that the Trump name works wonders in revving up rank-and-file supporters and activists, few of whom have shown much sign of deserting him even after the attack on the Capitol.

TRUMP remains the party’s biggest moneyspinn­er, and insiders say Republican bosses have convinced themselves they simply cannot survive financiall­y without him.

Political funding in the US is far more opaque than on this side of the Atlantic, but it’s clear much of Trump’s war chest comes from small contributi­ons.

Supporters are being flooded with online offers to buy not only the predictabl­e Trump-branded drinking glasses, T-shirts and $45 signed pictures, but ‘Trump Life Membership’ (minimum donations start at $5) and, unveiled last week, the Trump Card, a credit card-style, bloodred ID card with his signature in gold lettering and an angry-looking eagle that critics have likened to Nazi insignia. Trump says he wants every ‘patriot’ to carry one.

Meanwhile, the mega-donors are throwing in millions.

A shadowy cabal is reportedly funding an ‘audit’ of the 2020 vote in Arizona (which narrowly went to Biden) that Trump expects will expose the ‘Big Lie’ of the ‘stolen’ election.

Trump has talked about being ‘reinstated’ after widespread election fraud is exposed some time this year. Well, nobody’s holding their breath – but what about 2024?

He has yet to say definitive­ly whether he’ll run again for the White House – naturally, the former host of The Apprentice wants to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.

Despite publishing two books that monstered him, Michael Wolff was invited down for dinner and a chat at Mar-a-Lago in the spring. He came away convinced the ‘once and future king’

will run again for president. Wolff says his host was obsessed with avenging himself on the senior Republican­s who have dared cross him – including his ex-Vice President Mike Pence and former Senate leader Mitch McConnell – and, if nothing else, wants to win the party’s 2024 nomination to ensure none of them gets it.

In his new book, Landslide, Wolff describes how they chatted in Mar-a-Lago’s ‘throne room’ as ‘blonde mothers and blonde daughters, infinitely buxom’. swirled around them.

Of course, many political observers remain highly sceptical about a possible Trump re-run. Seasoned Republican strategist Liz Mair told the Mail this week that she doubts 75-year-old Trump, who is obese and has high blood pressure, will be well enough to run in three years.

‘I don’t think he’s in particular­ly great health and has actually been deteriorat­ing for a while,’ she said. ‘People at Mara-Lago say he’s trying to push across this image that he’s just as fit and healthy as he was in

2015 – but he’s really not.’

Republican­s may feel they are stuck with the high-profile but polarising Trump, but Mair doesn’t see that situation lasting for ever as potential challenger­s – namely the increasing­ly popular Florida governor Ron DeSantis – start to register with voters across the US.

In fact, she thinks the 2024 election is far more likely to be a fight between DeSantis and vicepresid­ent Kamala Harris than between the ageing, ailing Biden and Trump.

Another reason people think The Donald won’t want to plunge back into the hugely expensive game of running for president is that he knows his money could better be spent keeping him out of legal trouble – and even prison.

His business has suffered from the pandemic and his notoriety (it hasn’t opened a new property since February 2017), and he is being investigat­ed in a string of courts.

In New York, a grand jury is considerin­g charges relating to potential bank and insurance fraud. Last month, the Trump Organizati­on (the family business empire) and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselber­g were charged with 15 counts of various financial crimes. Both pleaded not guilty. Trump wasn’t charged, but observers suspect he might be if Weisselber­g cooperates with prosecutor­s.

A separate investigat­ion by the New York attorney general over possible property fraud by the Trump Organizati­on – allegedly lying about the value of its properties to more easily secure bank loans or to lower its taxes – became rather more serious in May, when it turned from a civil into a criminal inquiry.

Trump is also being investigat­ed over potentiall­y criminal election tampering in Georgia, where he was recorded badgering a senior state official to ‘find’ votes to overturn the Democrat victory there. So, when Trump isn’t spending his time discussing election strategy with his ‘cabinet’, how is he filling his empty days?

LIZ MAIR says her sources close to him in Mar-a-Lago ‘spend a lot of time eating with him, hanging out at the club and playing golf’. In the mornings, he indulges another passion – watching TV news.

He has always enjoyed hours on the phone gossiping to friends, staying abreast of Washington developmen­ts via chats with his contacts at Fox News and other conservati­ve media outlets. If they’re particular­ly important, he’s been known to put them on speakerpho­ne so everyone at Mar-a-Lago can listen and admire.

Trump, of course, used to be prolific on Twitter but has been suspended permanentl­y from the social media site on the grounds he may incite violence. He’s yet to find a satisfacto­ry alternativ­e.

Insiders say the fawning he receives at his country clubs reinforces his belief that he is far more loved than the polls suggest. When a couple got married at Mara-Lago earlier this year, Trump said a few words. ‘Do you miss me yet?’ he asked guests.

However, his obsessive belief that he was defrauded of election victory has reportedly driven away his two once most loyal aides – daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Despite living not very far away in Miami, the couple only visited him once every three or four weeks while Trump was in Palm Beach, a source told CNN.

Kushner ‘was kind of like a parent who sticks around less and less each morning while they’re transition­ing their kid to day care,’ said the insider waspishly.

While the Kushners supposedly reined in Trump’s worst impulses at the White House, the circle of advisers who now surround him features less restrained voices. They include Christina Bobb, a cable TV news host, and multimilli­onaire pillow-maker Mike Lindell, who have both advanced far-fetched conspiracy theories about 2020 election fraud.

As for Melania, she never showed much interest in being first lady and it is ‘unclear’ how much time she spends with her husband in Florida, says Wolff.

According to CNN, the couple share a ‘large suite of rooms’ at Mar-a-Lago and she frequently visits the on-site spa. However, a source close to the Trumps added: ‘She’s not a presence at Mar-aLago at all. She’s not mingling with people and rarely interacts with her husband’s staff.’

She certainly cannot be relishing the possibilit­y he’ll run again.

But if he did – and it is a big if – could he win?

 ?? Pictures:PROBE-MEDIA.COM/AP ?? Keeping a low profile: Former first lady Melania Trump in New York last month
Pictures:PROBE-MEDIA.COM/AP Keeping a low profile: Former first lady Melania Trump in New York last month
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 ??  ?? Point to prove: Trump and, top, his Mar-a-Lago estate
Point to prove: Trump and, top, his Mar-a-Lago estate

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