Jul 5, 2022 - Politics

The Florida HQ for Trump's would-be coup

A Coast Guard boat patrols in front of the Mar-a-Lago Resort in April 2017.
A Coast Guard boat patrols in front of the Mar-a-Lago Resort in April 2017. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The 11th-hour plot to overturn the 2020 election and keep President Trump in power was hatched not in the West Wing, but in the palm-ringed confines of Mar-a-Lago, the mansion on Florida's east coast built by Marjorie Merriweather Post.

  • Completed in 1927, the wealthy businesswoman and socialite's 100-plus-room estate, 175 miles southeast of Tampa, was designed to be used for the greater good, as a presidential retreat and sanctuary for visiting heads of state.

The so-called Southern White House isn't the first Florida place-name to be associated with a president, but the irony of this once-peaceful setting as the central command for a coup isn't lost on Florida historians.

Between the lines: Florida leads the nation in arrests related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and the Tampa Bay area leads the rest of the state.

Driving the news: The special panel investigating the attack has presented lots of evidence that Trump used his 2020 Christmas holiday in Florida to try to convince the Justice Department's top leaders to cast doubt on valid election results.

What we know: Trump arrived in the Sunshine State after sunset on Dec. 23, seemingly out of options after more than 60 legal challenges filed by his campaign had been tossed or rejected, per the Palm Beach Post.

  • Just after Trump's motorcade left Palm Beach International Airport, his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, was seen leaving the tarmac and told The Palm Beach Post that other "challenges" were in the works.
  • A few hours later, Trump tweeted that the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate already debunked election fraud claims.

Zoom in: From Mar-a-Lago over the next nine days, Trump pressed Justice Department officials to say the election had been stolen, the committee revealed.

  • Other "patently absurd" allegations came too, Justice Department leaders testified, until Trump left Mar-a-Lago abruptly, returning to Washington the morning of Dec. 31.

What they're saying: "I'm sure Ms. Post is spinning in her grave," Les Standiford, author of "Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago, and the Rise of America's Xanadu," told Axios via email, noting that Post envisioned Mar-a-Lago as "a center of diplomacy and a symbol of U.S. beauty and promise."

  • "She, incidentally, reveled in inviting a wide range of guests, many who might not have otherwise had the opportunity to experience such splendor," he wrote. "The thought of the place being turned into a club open only to those with unimaginable wealth would have been anathema to her."
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