Politics

“This Is the Center of the MAGA Universe”

The politics editor of the Palm Beach Post on covering the one place in the country where the world still revolves around Trump.

The header of a Palm Beach Post front page is seen in front of a red background that gradually changes to a blue background.
Animation by Slate. Photo from the Palm Beach Post.

This is part of Trump Slump, a series of stories checking in on how things are going now for the people and products that were riding high during the last administration.

For many political journalists, the arrival of the Biden administration meant a somewhat more predictable news cycle and a less manic pace. But for the small number of journalists reporting from the wealthy enclaves where the former president is still a regular presence, Trump remains at the center of the political and social scene—a key fixture of daily coverage.

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Slate spoke with Antonio Fins, the politics editor at the Palm Beach Post, to learn what it’s like to work in a part of the country where a post-presidency Donald Trump is local news. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Molly Olmstead: How did you get your start covering Trump?

Antonio Fins: I’ve been covering Florida politics, gosh, for about 30 years. But nothing like what we saw the last five years. I joined the Post in May of 2015. I was the business editor at the time. And one month into my stint at the Post, there was a gathering around a TV set, and I came running to my office wondering, Hey, what’s going on? Someone’s like, Trump’s running for president? And I was like, “No, with 16 other people?” And this one reporter says, “Oh, no, no, he’s going to win.”

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We all know Trump. This is a news organization that had been following him for a long time because of Mar-a-Lago. We covered all the fights that he had had with the town of Palm Beach and the county over the airport and the flagpole. And they knew that there was a certain tenacity about him, a certain relentlessness that would really play to his favor.

Originally, we really covered Trump’s candidacy as a business story, about his business impact in Palm Beach County, and then that ultimately morphed into the politics beat over time.

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At what point did the story go from being a business story to a politics story?

He first started coming to Mar-a-Lago in February of 2017, and he started showing up every other weekend. During those three or four months, it became an all-hands-on-deck type of thing. We looked at it from the business standpoint. Those philanthropic events became, overnight, the hottest ticket in South Florida, because you could presumably have a good shot of getting access to the president. That was just unprecedented.

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We got through 2017. After Easter of that year, he didn’t come back, so that gave us a breather. We all went back to what we were doing before, until Charlottesville. And then we were the ones that really led the reporting on all these charities leaving Mar-a-Lago. And then he came back around Thanksgiving 2017.

I can’t think of anything else in the political world that would be as much both a local story and a national story. Does that seem right?

Yeah, it was a unique thing. Everybody showed up to cover this story: the Washington Post, New York Times, I mean, everybody. And they all did great coverage. But the important thing, from our standpoint, so that we could keep our sanity, was: We’re here to cover Trump in Palm Beach. For example, when he was here, the local law enforcement had to beef up their efforts. They spent a lot of money on that. Some of the small airports got impacted by the “no-fly” zone. One of them was almost put out of business.

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How did you transition from covering a president to a former president?

We had several meetings. We’re waiting to see what the next chapter is. Does he start a digital platform? Is it a base here? Does he restart a major real estate empire out of Florida? Ultimately, we don’t know.

We’ve written about the impact [of Trump] on the Republican Party, and you’re seeing a lot of movement and voter registrations in our county, more so than you see in any off year. We’ve written a couple of stories about the fact that there’s been silence on a presidential library that everybody expects would be here. So, right now, we’re waiting to see what the next act is. If he runs again in 2024, we’ll see where it goes.

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Have you connected with any reporters in places where other ex-presidents live?

We did look into, for example, comparative stuff. You know, how many times George W. Bush went to Crawford. We had a golf tracker, and we compared it to other presidents. But then the story moved on.

Most political reporters feel like they got to put Trump behind them and move on themselves. Is there any part of this that feels like you’re still a little bit stuck in the past?

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I just think that the future is unresolved. I mean, most presidents, when they leave office, they’re out of the public eye. That’s just not his M.O.

Are there any other big questions you still have that you really want to look into?

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It was more than 30 trips and more than 100 days [over the course of the Trump era] that this presidency played out here, and I would love to be able to get access to what happened. You know, what were the conversations? Who did he meet with? How did the presidency unfold here?

As for that next act, do you have any educated guesses for what it will be?

If I were a betting man, I’d say he’s going to run again, and that’s why you haven’t seen him move into some other industry. [I think] he would win the Florida primary.

How do you think things would have been different for you right now had Trump won reelection?

He would have been coming down X number of weekends during the social season in Palm Beach, and we would have been in the press pool. But this is the center of the MAGA universe. We wrote about Donald Trump Jr. buying that mansion up in Jupiter. We wrote about Michael Flynn moving to southwest Florida. There’s a lot we still can write about this. But there are a lot of other stories I think our audience is looking to read. We’re back to being regular journalists.

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