In pushing forward with his Mar-a-Lago Club against the objections of Palm Beach society, Trump "didn't back down, no matter what," says author Laurence Leamer. "It's just the way he ran for president"

By Liz McNeil and Sam Gillette
February 20, 2019 03:15 PM
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Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Long before Donald Trump was president of the United States, he was the owner and favorite guest of the Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.

A new book by Laurence Leamer, Mar-a-Lago: Inside the Gates of Power at Donald Trump’s Presidential Palace, argues that the key to understanding Trump lies in his massive Palm Beach estate, which he purchased in 1985 and which remains his “spiritual home.”

“I realized how important Mar-a-Lago and Palm Beach [were] to [Donald’s] development,” says Leamer, whose book, published last month, is based on numerous interviews from club insiders. Since taking office, Mar-a-Lago (which he’s called the “Winter White House”) remains a frequent vacation spot.

Leamer calls the Palm Beach community the most “socially intimidating place in America.” But not to Trump, who bought the massive estate in the ’80s for a reported $10 million. (It was first constructed in the ’20s by a cereal heiress.)

As detailed in Vanity Fair, Trump met with stiff disapproval from the town, which rejected his plan to re-develop Mar-a-Lago as a series of mansions. Ultimately, instead, he refurbished the 58-bedroom, 33-bath property into what it is today — and in subsequent years kept pushing back, often successfully, against restrictions on how the club could be run.

Leamer sees a direct parallel in that behavior and Trump’s underdog campaign for president in 2016, which ended in his surprising victory.

“He used all these techniques, he learned all these techniques, taking on what he thought was a corrupt establishment,” Leamer explains. “He beat them. He used those same techniques to become president of the United States.”

The Trumps at Mar-a-Lago in 2015
Gustavo Caballero/Getty

Leamer says that Trump’s battle with Palm Beach society — complete with screaming, yelling and lawsuits — was “unheard of.”

“He took these people on. … It’s such a sedate, proper place,” he says. “You go with your hat in your hand to go to town council and you’re very polite. He just stood up to them … didn’t back down, no matter what. It’s just the way he ran for president.”

Trump “left no prisoners” in Palm Beach to get what he wanted, Leamer says. As much then as now, “People either loved him or hated him.”

Here are other highlights from Leamer’s book. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment about it.)

From left: Donald and Melania Trump at Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s Eve 2016
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

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Donald and Melania Trump Are a Team

Leamer believes that First Lady Melania Trump, who married the president in 2005 and shares son Barron with him, is close with her husband (despite allegations he has been unfaithful and her habit of physically avoiding him).

Leamer describes observing them in the Mar-a-Lago dining room on Thanksgiving last year:

“They were holding hands, they were kissing as if nobody else existed, as if their kids and their grandkids didn’t exist. It’s just the two of them.”

Such widespread criticism since Trump took office (where he has been historically unpopular) may have brought them closer.

“It’s like the two of them against the world now,” Leamer says.

The President Needs Enemies

According to Leamer, Trump is “a consummate public figure.”

“When he’s sitting there at Mar-a-Lago for dinner, you think he’s just sitting down, looking at his meal,” Leamer says. “He misses nothing… He just manipulates things the way he wants to. The fact that half the media in America, the national media, is so incredibly negative — they’re playing his game. That’s what he created.”

In fact, says Leamer, Trump “needs his enemies. The press is a great enemy for him to have.”

Mar-a-Lago Club

Cross Trump at Your Own Risk, Even in the Kitchen

On two occasions, Mar-a-Lago chefs felt the president’s wrath over dishes served to him.

Leamer recounts an incident when one young cook wanted to impress the boss by preparing Kobe steaks — the “most tender steaks in the world.” After the chef cooked the meat, Trump, who prefers his very well done, found the meal far too easy to cut, says Leamer.

According to Leamer, “He says to [the chef], ‘What the f— is this? Bring me a steak.’ ” That was “the last Kobe steak that was ever served” at Mar-a-Lago.

A similar incident occurred over, of all things, a widely liked Caesar salad that was a signature of one of his chefs.

Leamer says Trump, who preferred hamburgers, steak and a wedge of iceberg lettuce, was not a fan. According to Leamer, several months after the chef was hired, Trump came into the kitchen one day “swearing like a truck driver.”

“He went into the kitchen and he just blew up,” Leamer says. “He screams and yells and says ‘You and your f-ing salad. [And then] he makes his own salad and tells him, ‘I’ll show you how to make the Caesar salad.’ “

Trump proceeded to do just that, tossing together lettuce and croutons, “sprayed with salad dressing,” according to Leamer. He fired the chef the next day.

The President in His Happy Place: Alone but Tended to

“[Trump has] created his world,” says Leamer. “It’s what he’s done his whole life. This is what it’s come to: life of incredible isolation.”

According to previous PEOPLE reporting, Trump largely keeps to the same routine when visiting Mar-a-Lago, even while president: golfing at his private club in nearby West Palm Beach and meeting and dining with club members, regularly moving from table to table. Though invited to eat out at restaurants and private homes in the area, he prefers his own chef.

In a detailed portrait of the president published in December, the New York Times reported that Trump was “more sure of his own judgment and more cut off from anyone else’s than at any point since taking office.”

The Times article continued: “He spends ever more time in front of a television, often retreating to his residence out of concern that he is being watched too closely. As he sheds advisers at a head-spinning rate, he reaches out to old associates, complaining that few of the people around him were there at the beginning.”

Faced with negative headlines in recent months, he has reacted with incredulity, according to the Times: “Can you believe this? I’m doing great, but it’s a war every day.”

For the president, Mar-a-Lago will always be a refuge, a club source previously told PEOPLE.

“No matter what else is happening in the world, he is treated like royalty at Mar-a-Lago,” the source said. “He loves to be here.”