When he was forced out of the White House in January, Donald Trump thought he had left elections behind – for another four years at least.
But one month on, having relocated to Mar-a-Lago, his private club in the wealthy enclave of Palm Beach, Trump faces another vote that could affect his future.
The former president’s well-heeled neighbours on the southern Florida barrier island, who are usually known to settle disputes discreetly, are orchestrating a public campaign to bar him from living in his Mar-a-Lago club.
Some of them are now eyeing up a local council election in early March, during which a new mayor and two new council members will be installed who may be more sympathetic to their cause.
On a recent visit, the clouds had formed over Mar-a-Lago, flags fluttering in the wind above the sleepy, private roads linking the gated mega mansions.
Many neighbours living the quiet life here say Trump’s residency breaks an agreement he struck with Palm Beach in the 1990s.
When he transformed the beachfront mansion from a private home into a members’ club, he assured the town he would not live on the estate.
But Trump appears to have found a loophole in the agreement – claiming that as president of the club, he is technically a member of staff and exempt from the residency restriction.
Councillors are currently reluctant to pick a fight with a man as litigious as Trump, but some locals hope an overhaul in the town’s management could alter their stance.
One Palm Beach homeowner who has joined the fight against Trump is Glenn Zeitz, a prominent lawyer who has owned a property on the island since 2005.
Zeitz told The Telegraph that his concern is that if the town makes an exception for Trump it will “open the floodgates” to other club owners.
Palm Beach is a town full of “the haves and the have mores”, Zeitz joked. “They’re used to having their own way and if you do it for one person then it establishes precedent.”
Zeitz, who spent six years locked in litigation against Trump and his Atlantic City casino expansion in the 1990s, says he is well aware the former president “plays hardball” when it comes to fighting his case.
But he believes some Palm Beach residents may still object to Trump’s residency in Mar-a-Lago in April, when the issue is next given a public airing.
Laurence Leamer, a longtime Palm Beach resident who has written a book on Mar-a-Lago, agrees that Trump’s habit of violating local ordinances and launching legal action has not endeared him to his neighbours.
“That’s not the Palm Beach way, this is an overly-civilised place if anything, where people settle disputes in a very kind of sedate way,” he said.
The Florida sunshine and palm-tree lined streets may create the illusion of a laissez-faire town, but Mr Leamer said many locals’ attitudes towards Trump have shifted, and many plan to let their once-coveted Mar-a-Lago memberships lapse.
It is evident Trump’s presence is no longer as obtrusive as it once was. Where once a small army of Secret Service agents blockaded the road leading up to the former president’s club, a steady stream of sports cars and four-wheel drives are now free to pass right by the Mar-a-Lago entrance.
Just a single guard could now be spotted standing watch outside. Passing motorists appeared to be unaware – or unconcerned – that a former president resided shortly beyond the winding drive.
Taking on the issue of a former president’s living situation is unprecedented for the council here, which is more accustomed to dealing with trifles such as the height of residents’ flag poles and unsightly parking metres.
Locals tend to make their feelings known through lawyers’ letters, rather than protest signs on the perfectly manicured lawns.
But Trump’s relationship with celebrities and businessmen here has been fraught for decades. Over the years there have been disputes about everything from the height of Trump’s flagpole (which exceeded town regulations) to whether or not he could build a dock on his property.
Trump has also repeatedly sued Palm Beach over air traffic from the nearby airport, claiming the flight paths over Mar-a-Lago were damaging the historic property.
Insiders say Trump’s new daily routine does not appear to have varied much since he settled permanently in Palm Beach. He rarely quits the private sphere of his club, dining at Mar-a-Lago most evenings and rarely straying further than his nearby golf club.
The base for a plot for 2024
Mar-a-Lago has also become Trump’s base for plotting his future in US politics. With Trump still commanding sway over the party faithful, senior Republicans have travelled to Mar-a-Lago in recent weeks to dine with their former leader and secure his support.
The Trump family are even hosting a fundraiser for one potential 2024 candidate, South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, at the private club next week.
Trump himself will return to the public stage this week when he delivers a keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which has relocated to Florida for this year’s event.
“Florida will be the headquarters of the ‘MAGA’ universe as long as Trump lives in Mar-a-Lago and he will conduct his political operations from here in Palm Beach, ” said Dave Aronberg, the Democrat state attorney for Palm Beach.
But Aronberg said Trump still faced a number of “threats” as he settled into his post-presidency life, citing a criminal investigation into his taxes in New York, a probe into his attempts to influence the Georgia election results, and a federal investigation in Trump’s associates.
“There is nothing certain with all those things going on as to where he’ll be living in the future,” he said.
But back in Palm Beach, Trump’s lawyer John Marion, has defended the former president’s right to live at Mar-a-Lago. He argued that Trump should be treated as an employee of the club, and therefore exempt from rules governing club members.
Marion has also cautioned those who sought to oust Trump. He suggests that “on the remote possibility they were somehow successful in preventing him from living” at Mar-a-Lago, Trump could cause more problems for his neighbours by choosing to move to “where they live and where he owns several homes”.
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