But long before Trump, Florida had transformed the modern right, starting with the heart-wrenching battle royal over the hanging of chads in the 2000 election, the media spectacle that shattered the spirit of the previous political era. It was the dawn of Fox News, The Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Ann Coulter, a loud and belligerent new generation of media pugilists whom Beltway watchers – the old media – called ” the Freak Show ”until the freaks have multiplied and the term has lost all meaning. Roger Stone was at the forefront, organizing a group of costumed GOP lawyers and party officials to storm a polling center in Miami-Dade County and disrupt the 2000 recount. , citing fraud, in what has come to be known as the Brooks Brothers Riot. This coup set a new threshold for the art of political performance by turning a boring civic event like the vote count into another spectacle for cable news.
Today you can buy a baseball cap that says “DeSantis 2024: Make America Florida”. Following the Trumpian scenario, Governor Ron DeSantis, who has made successful political theater by opposing mask mandates and shaming the media, says Americans who “think like us” are flocking to the Sunshine State and become Republicans. And that may be true, though tragedies like the Surfside condo collapse in Miami can challenge DeSantis’ upbeat visions and expose the rot within.
Florida has always been “the sunny place for shady people,” to quote Roger Stone citing Somerset Maugham, the traditional haven for gangsters, drug lords, Ponzi schemes and the lucky ones like Joad on the way to the hi or methamphetamine addiction. Pablo Escobar had a home here, and Fox News chief Roger Ailes escaped here after being fired for widespread sexual harassment. Stone’s first condo in Key Biscayne was purchased with the help of Richard Nixon, who dubbed his own retreat the “Florida White House” years before Mar-a-Lago winked at Trump .
This is the state that gave us the Florida Man meme and the rogue weekly national investigator, forerunner of the paranoid and factually contested style of Fox News and Newsmax, and a crucial ally in Trump’s political rise. A tabloid report for the tabloids. And now the place is ugly with new arrivals. As Stone’s friend and radical right-wing activist Laura Loomer tells me, “Every con artist and his mom now want to move to Florida and establish themselves as the new conservative media network or the new conservative publication.
It’s wednesday morning in Palm Beach, and the sprinklers hidden in the lawns of the Augustins wet the sidewalks along the hedges. Laurence Leamer, author of Mar-a-Lago: inside the gates of power at Donald Trump’s presidential palace, sits in his apartment facing the ocean, still in his tennis whites.
“I’ve lived here for 27 years,” he says. “This is the most incredible year I have ever seen. A whole generation comes here with money.
During the pandemic, 1 percent waves from Manhattan escaped to Florida and found safe havens in Miami and Palm Beach. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have prepared a luxury reserve on the private island of Indian Creek (in the footsteps of Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen), and Sean Hannity bought a condo on Trump’s Corner for $ 5 million. It was an old story, of wealthy New Yorkers escaping to the sunny Sixth Borough. Back in the days when Trump was still a B-lister page and Manhattan’s elite laughed behind his back, he searched for his own kingdom and found it in the golden history of Mar-a-Lago, the estate built by the Heiress of Cereal Marjorie Merriweather Post in 1927. He also imagined a version of real estate baron Henry Flagler, who built a railroad through the Florida swamps in the 19th century and made Palm Beach ” America’s most desirable beach resort, ”Leamer says,“ building the world’s largest hotel on this earth and filling it with these people who come here. And marry his mistress. This is the classic story of Palm Beach.
For four years, the pecking order in Palm Beach has been defined not only by annual dues to exclusive clubs, but by loyalty to Trump – or at least public silence on the matter. There was the edifying account of Lois Pope, a prominent philanthropist and member of Mar-a-Lago who wrote an op-ed in Time magazine in 2017 expressing its distaste for Trump after suggesting the white supremacists in Charlottesville were “very good people.” Pope, now 88, gave up her membership in Mar-a-Lago and was frozen by friends.
The annulment of the Pope, heir to the National investigator fortune – was an ironic twist given that the source of his wealth is exactly where the story of the floridization of right-wing media begins. The story of the 42-year-old Florida-based tabloid follows the rise of populist spectacle and conspiracy theory in right-wing politics, crescendoing with Donald Trump.