Trump’s holiday stay in Palm Beach ends with warning tweet to Iran
President Donald Trump departed for Washington late Sunday afternoon after putting the U.S. Congress, and the Iranian regime, on notice that American forces will immediately retaliate, “perhaps in a disproportionate manner,” should “Iran strike any U.S. person or target.”
The tweet rifled from Mar-a-Lago after the president returned from his West Palm Beach golf club was the final salvo in a tumultuous, record-long 17-day holiday visit.
Trump’s 27th visit to Palm Beach as president was marked by the Middle East confrontation, which seems on the brink of more military action, and a domestic political crisis.
He also broke with tradition by attending a Christmas Eve service in West Palm Beach, but again hosted an annual New Year’s Eve party at Mar-a-Lago after bypassing it last year due to the federal government shutdown.
In all, he welcomed the decisive 2020 election year in a state he now calls home, and which the Trump-Pence campaign is counting on to reach the constitutionally required 270 electoral votes in November.
But the headlines from this holiday at the Southern White House were dominated by fuming over his impeachment by Democrats in the U.S. House, and additional warnings to Iran after airstrikes that killed Iran’s top military commander after the storming of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
All of which unfolded in Palm Beach, where a front-row seat to the drama comes with having a president as a neighbor.
“Certainly decisions get made when presidents are not at the White House. It’s not that unusual,” said Kevin Wagner, chairman of political science department at Florida Atlantic University. “But this president spends a lot of time away from the White House, especially at Trump-branded properties. So it’s inevitable a certain amount of them would happen when he is away from the White House.”
The final days of Trump’s stay here were a sharp contrast to his arrival.
The president and first lady Melania Trump arrived on Dec. 20 with a strong economic wind behind them.
That day, Florida’s labor department announced that the state’s unemployment rate of 3.1 percent matched a record low posted in 2006. The jobless number in Palm Beach County, home to Mar-a-Lago and two Trump golf clubs, posted its lowest unemployment rate in history — a stunning 2.8 percent.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average hit another record — Trump trumpeted that a new stock market record had been set “135 times since my 2016 Election Win. Thank you!”
Just before departing Washington that evening, Trump signed the National Defense Authorization Act, a military spending bill that formally created his Space Force initiative.
Derided by critics as superfluous, Space Force is a potential boon for Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis has prodded Trump to base Space Force operations at Cape Canaveral.
But politically-winning economics quickly got shoved aside by tribal politics.
Since Dec. 21, Trump has issued more than two dozen tweets and retweets ripping House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats over his impeachment on two counts — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“Despite all of the great success that our Country has had over the last 3 years, it makes it much more difficult to deal with foreign leaders (and others) when I am having to constantly defend myself against the Do Nothing Democrats & their bogus Impeachment Scam. Bad for USA!,” the president tweeted the day after Christmas.
Trump also upped his outreach to evangelicals following a personal and political rebuke by an influential publication, Christianity Today, that urged the faithful not to support his re-election effort.
On Christmas Eve, Trump and the first lady skipped their traditional service at the Palm Beach Episcopal church they attend. Instead, they crossed the Intracoastal to attend an early evening service at the evangelical Family Church.
Parishioner Broadus Verhine told The Post that night it was not a shock to see the president in the congregation.
“I’m not surprised [the president] showed up,” Verhine said. “He’s that type of guy. He likes to meet people.”
Then on Jan. 5, the president spoke at the kickoff rally of “Evangelicals for Trump” at a mega-church south of Miami.
Attendee Alysa Floyd, 17, of Florida City told The Post she will support Trump.
“I agree with him,” said the self-described Republican. “He says what he's going to do and he actually does it.”
Other Christians, such as Rob Musick, an anti-Trump Presbyterian pastor from eastern Kentucky who also attended the event, said evangelicals’ fervor for Trump clashes with their spiritual beliefs because the president’s lifestyle, behavior and hubris conflict with the teachings of the gospels.
“For a lot of us Christians this is not good, it’s idolatry,” Musick said. “The whole idea of America first is not Christian.”
Global tensions hovered over festivities throughout the two week-plus stay, initially from the veiled threat from North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Kim’s menacing promise of a “Christmas gift” had American military forces on alert.
Trump, though, deflected the anxiety. On New Year’s Eve, dressed in black tie, and flanked by Melania Trump in a designer gown, the president stood on the red carpet musing about the present he hoped to receive from Kim.
“I hope his Christmas present is a beautiful vase,” Trump said. “That’s what I’d like — a vase. Look, he likes me, I like him. We get along.”
By then, though, tensions had boiled over in the Middle East.
The initial shots were fired by an Iranian-backed militia, which launched attacks on joint U.S.-Iraq military forces. In response, Trump ordered airstrikes against five facilities in Iraq and Syria on Dec. 29.
Following the attacks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper appeared at Mar-a-Lago to discuss the action. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad was subsequently stormed on New Year’s Eve by Iranian-backed militants. That’s when Trump ordered the Jan. 3 airstrike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani while he was in Baghdad.
On Friday afternoon, Trump explained the reason for the strike while speaking to the nation from a podium in a Mar-a-Lago ballroom.
“Soleimani was plotting imminent and sinister attacks on American diplomats and military personnel, but we caught him in the act and terminated him,” Trump said.
The Trumps’ holiday stay also had its share of lighter moments.
During Christmas Eve calls to troops, the president was stumped by a question.
“What did you get Mrs. Trump for Christmas this year?” asked a U.S. Army intelligence analyst stationed in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.
“Oh, that’s a tough question. Well, I really should say, a very beautiful card,” Trump began. He then added: “I think I’ll answer that by saying I’m still working on a Christmas present, is that okay? There’s a little time left, not too much, but there’s a little time left.”
Trump also took a jab at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after the Twitter-sphere took notice that the country’s broadcasters removed a scene with Trump from the 1992 movie “Home Alone 2.”
“I guess Justin T doesn’t much like my making him pay up on NATO or Trade!” Trump tweeted.
Back in Washington, the president will continue managing the crisis with Iran and the impeachment case.
Tehran has already threatened “harsh” reprisals. On Saturday, Trump warned of further U.S. strikes, potentially on what he tweeted are 52 identified targets sites, if that is the case.
“They attacked us, & we hit back. If they attack again, which I would strongly advise them not to do, we will hit them harder than they have ever been hit before!” he tweeted.
On Capitol Hill, the impeachment deadlock will take center stage after Congress convenes on Tuesday.
Pelosi and House Democrats have not turned over the articles of impeachment. They are holding out in order to arm-twist Senate Republicans to call extra witnesses, especially Pompeo, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton.
In Florida, though, Trump remains popular in his adopted home state.
Wagner, who conducts polling at FAU, said long-term patterns in 2020 are favorable to Trump.
“Political scientists would tell you that historical trend lines are very predictive” he said. “From that perspective, from that lens, the president is actually in very good shape.”
Trump has a strong economy behind him. And American voters tend to favor incumbent presidents at times of financial good fortune.
In fact, in the past 40 years, only two presidents, Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, were relegated to one-term status, and largely because of economic downturns.
“If you’re the sitting president, you are automatically the favorite,” Wagner said of voter preference for incumbents when economics are good.
However, Wagner said, a strong economy should also mean Trump’s “approval numbers should be considerably higher.”
Wagner said one reason could be that while Trump’s strident rhetoric and often times bellicose social media missives endear him to his die-hard supporters, they tend to turn off other voters who would otherwise lean toward him.
“The argument might well be that his behavior is what might actually cause him not to get elected during a year when all the other indicators say that the re-election of the sitting president is very likely,” Wagner said.
In fact, the final presidential preference poll of Florida voters in 2019 by Mason-Dixon showed Trump trailing former vice president Joe Biden by a razor-thin margin — two points.
Trump’s response to the suggestion that his style may be a political liability could well be what he told evangelicals in Miami on Friday.
“I may not be perfect, but I get things done,” he said.
Staff writers Rachida Harper, Christine Stapleton and freelancer Abraham Mahshie contributed to this report.