Donald Trump has been president for only 13 weeks (even if it feels like a brutal half-century in Twitter years), yet he's already spent seven full weekends at Mar-a-Lago, his beachfront playground for the obscenely wealthy. That's concerning for all kinds of reasons: the ethics of constantly pumping up a for-profit business run by his family, the security lapses in the sprawling mansion, the costs of protecting the president there.
But for South Florida residents, there's a whole separate concern: Any weekend when Trump is hanging out at Mar-a-Lago is a weekend when you'll need to stay as far as possible from West Palm Beach, unless getting caught in massive protester-versus-Secret Service gridlock is how you get your kicks.
Luckily, there's a new site to help locals with that conundrum. It's called, simply enough, Is Trump at Mar-a-Lago?
The site not only answers that basic question but also tallies up exactly how much tax money Trump is blowing on extra security to hang every weekend at his private club instead of the White House.
“It’s supremely hypocritical of Donald Trump to spend millions of government dollars at Mar-a-Lago while crusading to cut vital programs such as Meals on Wheels,” says Morgan Finkelstein, a spokesperson for the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the liberal think tank that created the site. “Our tracker will provide context and keep Trump accountable for his out-of-control spending at taxpayers’ expense.”
Trump just closed out yet another weekend of hanging in West Palm Beach. He celebrated Easter at Bethesda-by-the-Sea, a church just north of his club, got in a round at his golf club (his 19th game since getting elected!), and took an elaborate back route to Mar-a-Lago to avoid a sizable mass of protesters demanding he finally release his tax returns.
Then he spent Sunday morning furiously tweeting about how those protesters were paid and apparently shouldn't be protesting because the election is over — a curious take on how the First Amendment works in America, to put it mildly.
Trump's obsession with using his private club as a weekend White House isn't just annoying for anyone who lives or works anywhere near there. There's also the morally dubious fact that he's using the property to constantly boost the Trump brand, in such an unabashed fashion that Mar-a-Lago doubled its application fees after his election.
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"It's just another example of his consistent efforts to exploit public office for private gain," Steve Schooner, an ethics expert, recently told NBC News. "He's using his official office and the fact that people have to travel with him, meet him, and follow him to promote his commercial enterprise, in this case his privately owned club."
And taxpayers are footing the bill. By the U.S. Government Accountability Office's own estimates, Trump's insistence on holding important meetings such as Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent visit in West Palm have already cost $25 million extra, as compared to holding such events at the White House, which is already designed for maximum-security events.
None of this information is likely to sway the president from blowing hundreds of millions more to sit by the beach every weekend while promoting the Trump brand. But at the very least, this site will help South Floridians avoid getting caught directly in his megalomania.