Trump's Mar-a-Lago veepstakes: Is it Kristi, Tim or Doug?

Donald Trump had a fun weekend, soaking in rich people's money and the adoration of would-be running mates

By Heather Digby Parton


Published May 6, 2024 9:39AM (EDT)

Donald Trump | Mar-a-Lago resort (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Mar-a-Lago resort (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump whines constantly about not being able to campaign around the country because he's stuck in a New York courtroom facing trial on felony charges. Since court is only convened three or four days a week and Trump has his own plane, he could certainly be out on the campaign trail every week if he chose to. He held a couple of rallies last week in Wisconsin and Michigan, but on his days off he's usually playing golf at and angrily tweeting rather than glad-handing the MAGA crowd out on the stump. And, of course, he's holding a lot of fundraising events down at Mar-a-Lago.

This past weekend, rather than heading out to Arizona or even next door to Pennsylvania, Trump was back in Florida regaling 400 wealthy donors at a $40,000-a-ticket event with extended complaints about his legal problems and the stolen election of 2020, among other MAGA greatest hits. He also compared the Biden administration to the Gestapo and called special counsel Jack Smith a "f***ng a**hole." In other words, he was clearly enjoying himself.

The event was wrapped around an annual Republican retreat, also conveniently being held in Palm Beach — now the center of the GOP universe — where Trump's campaign staff and pollsters delivered a presentation to wealthy supporters explaining why their guy is a shoo-in in November. According to the New York Times, the presenters reported that there are only three real swing states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The others that everyone else usually puts on that list — such as Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina — are already in the bag for Trump. They even went so far as to add Minnesota and Virginia as likely Trump pickups. None of this comports with any known reality in public polling which currently shows an extremely tight race in the six most important swing states. But this was really a pitch for money, so they wanted to sound optimistic.

Trump's team also reported that they had raised $76 million in April but we'll have to wait for the FEC reports later to see if that's correct. Since that would presumably include the $50 million he allegedly raised in one night, it would suggest that the rest of his fundraising effort is still pretty anemic. So these big-money events are more important than ever. It's possible that Team Trump has bled its bled its base dry after eight-plus years of constant haranguing for money. (This week, they even begged supporters to pay the $9,000 fine imposed on Trump by Judge Juan Merchan in his New York criminal trial.)

But the weekend's big event was the Mar-a-Lago luncheon that brought in a long list of vice-presidential contenders, whom Trump paraded before the assembled donors as if it were a Miss Universe pageant. Fortunately, we were all spared a swimsuit competition, although I'm sure the group would have been happy to oblige if Trump had demanded it. There is no apparent limit to what they might do to curry favor with Dear Leader.

Axios reported that Trump called each of the hopefuls up on stage, one by one:

Whatever he was trying to say about Byron Donalds and "diversité" — that's something else.

He also gave a big shout-out to House Speaker Mike Johnson, who was in attendance, which must have had Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene fuming. One wonders if Greene will really go through with her threat to call a motion to depose Johnson this week, as promised, after hearing the party leader praise him so fulsomely. If she still had hopes of making the list of potential running mates, those were dashed this weekend. She wasn't invited.

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Then five of the veep hopefuls went on the Sunday shows to display their sycophancy skills. We all know how important that is to him. The most stunning performance came from South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who had left the luncheon early and didn't make it up on stage with the others. She's still trying to spin her way out of the self-inflicted mess she's created with her new book, which features an account of shooting a puppy and a blatant lie about meeting North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. It's not going well.

She later posted that it was all fake news. You can see for yourself it was not.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina repeatedly refused to say whether he would accept the results of the election if Trump lost, insisting that Trump was going to win (one way or another).

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, reportedly a billionaire wealthier than Trump, continued to practice his best Mike Pence impression — but ended up sounding more like Mitt Romney after taking umbrage at the term "wealthy donors":

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida continued his self-abasement crusade, piggy-backing on Trump's outrageous comments about Democrats wanting to "abort" babies after they're born and demanding that non-citizens who protest in America be deported.

Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, lately famous as the scourge of university presidents, stridently defended Donald Trump even more aggressively than the other groveling wannabes on the Sunday suck-up tour. He definitely likes that.

I believed Noem was the likeliest choice until Puppygate broke. Now I think Tim Scott is probably the frontrunner. He's got the Pence-ian adoration act down pat and I think Trump would enjoy having a Black man from the South in that subservient position. Why Scott, an accomplished man with a successful political career, would choose to subject himself to that is truly mystifying.

Trump really let down his hair at this luncheon, obviously feeling comfortable with the wealthy donors who were there to open their wallets. Indeed, aside from his usual rants about how nobody knows the trouble he's seen, he couldn't stop talking about money.

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The Washington Post reported that he complained about having to take selfies with donors, saying he wouldn't do it unless they forked over more cash. He said a wedding would get preference over the donors because the wedding guests were paying a higher rate per person. He also bragged extensively about his golf game, citing tournaments held at his own clubs that he ostensibly won. You might think that all these wealthy and successful individuals would be at least a little put off by all this inane braggadocio. Either they love his narcissism and pathological lying as much as the MAGA faithful do, or they've collectively decided to shut up and take it.

Hobnobbing with rich people begging to give him large sums of money must have come as a soothing balm to the once and possibly future president. But it couldn't last. On Monday he's back in that dingy, cold courtroom in Manhattan, being treated as just another criminal defendant — albeit one who comes with Secret Service protection. On days like this it must feel like Mar-a-Lago is a million miles away. Maybe that's why he closes his eyes and drifts off to sleep so often during the testimony. He wants to retreat to his fantasy world where he's more important than everyone in the room and nothing bad can touch him. The gritty reality of having to face accountability for his reckless criminality is just too much to bear. 

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Byron Donalds Commentary Donald Trump Elections Kristi Noem Mar-a-lago Media Republicans Trump Trial