This is now the third weekend in a row that President Donald Trump is spending at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which his aides have come to call the “Winter White House.” The (very expensive) visits are set to continue frequently over the next four years of Trump’s presidency and, not surprisingly, that is quite positive for the members-only Palm Beach club. The resort doubled the initiation fee to $200,000 shortly after Trump was elected, and there is no shortage of people who want to join, reveals the New York Times in a piece about the unprecedented nature of a president using a private club he owns to carry out official business.
“It enhances it—his presidency does,” Bernd Lembcke, the club’s managing director, said about membership. “People are now even more interested in becoming members. But we are very careful in vetting them.”
Members now suddenly enjoy a close proximity to power that can come with benefits. One time, for example, Trump asked one of the members if he would be interested in building the border wall with Mexico. The president spending time in a place where there are paying members opens up a flood of ethical questions, including the fact that whenever an administration official talks about the property it sounds like an ad. Case in point: Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman, described Mar-a-Lago as “one of the most successful private clubs in the world,” and said “the president looks forward to hosting many world leaders at this remarkable property.”
Experts are flabbergasted. “Mar-a-Lago represents a commercialization of the presidency that has few if any precedents in American history,” Jon Meacham, a presidential historian said. Although presidents often talk to the rich, “a club where people pay you as president to spend time in his company is new. It is kind of amazing.”
Newly leaked audio from a November party at Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club illustrates just how comfortable Trump feels around the wealthy who make up his membership. Politico published audio of Trump talking at the club shortly after his victory and refering to the members as “my real group” and “the special people.” The then–president-elect also touted how close these members were going to be to key decisions, inviting them to join in as he put together his administration. “We’re going to be interviewing everybody—treasury, we’re going to be interviewing secretary of state,” he said. “We have everybody coming in—if you want to come around, it’s going to be unbelievable … so you might want to come along.”
Trump also made it clear that he talks about decisions with members: “We were just talking about who we [are] going to pick for the FCC, who [are] we going to pick for this, who we gonna accept—boy, can you give me some recommendations?”