On the eve of a potential government shutdown, hundreds of people decked out in patriotic colors shrugged off the crisis in Washington and gathered Thursday at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate on Palm Beach to celebrate the first anniversary of his inauguration.
More than 900 people attended the Red, White & Blue Celebration for “we the people,” two days before the Jan. 20 inaugural anniversary. The event was hosted by the Trumpettes, socialites who created a fan club for Trump back in 2015. The party had modest aspirations when devised in August by Trumpettes founder and part-time Palm Beach resident Toni Holt Kramer, in a bid to counter the exodus of nearly two dozen charities from Mar-a-Lago following Trump’s controversial comments about the neo-Nazi and white supremicists demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va.
But on Thursday, the party turned into a near frenzy of adoration. Against a gold lame curtain, Holt Kramer, wearing a white lace waterfall dress and a Trumpettes sash, took the stage and exhorted the crowd. “He is saving the country!” Holt Kramer said. “We are going to keep him there for the next seven years!”
Throughout the evening, people professed their affection, admiration and, in some cases, religious devotion to the 45th president of the United States, who was not at the event as he tried to work out a deal to keep the government running. “He is our messiah,” pronounced philanthropist Tova Leidesdorf, who addressed the crowd and helped pay for the event.
The 916 people in attendance at Mar-a-Lago blew past the town of Palm Beach fire code of a maximum of 800 in the grand ballroom, where 816 were seated (another 100 were in the smaller gold-and-white ballroom.) Tables holding up to 13 guests filled the ballroom and extended into the farthest reaches of the room. More people wanted in than could be accommodated: A waiting list contained 700 names.
Holt Kramer, a longtime Mar-a-Lago club member, settled on an Americana theme for the party. It featured a Dixieland band and classic American food, plus a lineup of pals from her Hollywood days. Performers sang Frank Sinatra songs and the crowd joined in to sing “America the Beautiful.”
Also making an appearance was Judge Jeanine Pirro of Fox News, whose elegant, one-shoulder red gown did not restrain her from starting her remarks with a vulgarity: “Welcome to Mar-a-Lago. A magnificent place. It sure ain’t no s—-hole!”
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Donald Trump in Palm Beach
The crowd loved the salty reference to remarks attributed to Trump, when he allegedly referred to Haiti and African nations in a meeting on an immigration deal. Trump has denied making the comment.
In fact, the guests loved all of Pirro’s speech, including her repeated assertion that the Justice Department and FBI are “corrupt” and that illegal immigrants are “crossing the borders, taking our jobs, education and housing…just in case they decide to kill us.” When Pirro mentioned Hillary Clinton, whom she said would have “destroyed this nation,” the crowd broke into chants of “Lock her up!”
People clapped when Pirro called out the “left wing, socialist agenda.” But they applauded wildly and even stood when she lauded Trump’s announcement that the U.S. Embassy in Israel would move to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
Pirro also mocked criticism that Trump’s frequent and sometimes erratic tweeting was a sign of some mental disorder. “He’s not unstable,” she said. “He’s a damn genius.”
Although Trump wasn’t there, his image was everywhere, plastered on a screen on the side of a truck parked by the pool, and featured in several life-size photo cutouts at the entrance to the Donald J. Trump Grand Ballroom. Guests mugged with the photos and one joked about grabbing his privates.
Trump’s son, Eric, was there, graciously chatting with guests and welcoming attendees in polite, restrained remarks. “We truly love you. We are honored to have you here on behalf of our entire family,” he said.
Eric Trump then proceeded to list some accomplishments he attributed to his father, including a stock market that last week broke the 26,000 mark on the Dow and the decision by Apple to create 20,000 jobs in the U.S.
Eric’s wife, Lara, was more feisty. “The media, the Democrats. They won’t try to stop a loser. But they will try to stop a winner!” she said. She then predicted her father-in-law would “go down in history as one of the greatest presidents we’ve ever had.”
Next up on stage was Leidesdorf, who together with fellow philanthropist Ari Rifkin had paid an undisclosed fee to have Pirro appear at the party.
There was a tense moment when Palm Beach insurance agent Michael Dixon went on stage, seemingly to halt Leidesdorf’s lengthy and heavily accented speech. Just as Leidesdorf was gushing over Pirro’s olive skin, dark hair and judicial resume, Dixon interrupted her at the podium. Event organizer Carol Brophy climbed on stage, and Dixon pushed her. Then Dixon left the stage.
Holt Kramer appeared on stage from time to time, introducing the next guest or speaker. She noted that people from all over the country and even the world were in attendance, and later privately said that a group from California had purchased seven tables.
Indeed, there was a heavy old-Hollywood theme to the event, owing to Holt Kramer’s past as a Hollywood reporter. The dinner even began with a montage of classic Hollywood actors culled from old films, all singing snippets of “America the Beautiful.” Images of John Wayne, Glenn Campbell, Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Lucille Ball lit up the big screens surrounding the ballrooms.
Guests put their spin on the glamorous evening, albeit in creative ways, as they lauded the president’s accomplishments and pushed back on any criticisms.
Martin Schwartz of Fort Lauderdale said he had scoured the Internet to come up with his festive gear, including a star-spangled blue jacket, red-and-white striped tie, socks bearing Trump’s image and shoes with distinct messages: “CAN’T TRUMP THIS” on the right foot and “BUILD THAT WALL” on the left.
Richard Enslein of Sarasota, wearing a borrowed red, white and blue tie, said he decided to attend the party “because I voted for the president, I gave money to the president and I love what he’s doing. He’s doing what he said he was going to do.”
Kerry Kensington of North Palm Beach wore a red gown and a wrap featuring the image of the American flag, an accessory found on the Internet. She said she was at the party because she’s happy with the tax reform law and that Trump is “bringing back jobs.”
Other guests said they attended not only to show their support for the president but also to get a peek at the historic Palm Beach mansion, built by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. “I always wanted to see Mar-a-Lago,” said Palm Beach Garden’s Cindy Steele, who said she works at the Flagler Museum.
“I support Donald Trump, and I wanted to see Mar-a-Lago,” agreed Elena Zucarro, who with her husband, Andrew, flew down from Long Island.
Many guests said they approved of everything Trump has done in his first year in office, but a few said they wished Trump would be more restrained at times. “Stop tweeting. It’s hurting him,” said Palm Beach Garden’s Jordan Bernstein, who said he has supported Trump from Day One.
Jannine Assin of Long Island also expressed support for Trump, extolling his business prowess and supporting his actions during his first year as president. But she allowed that she wished he’d “shut his mouth a little” at times and not voice everything on his mind.
The blunt talk doesn’t bother Pat Riley of Fort Lauderdale, however. “He is like our gladiator and he volunteered to go into the ring to fight the ferrocious lion of corruption in Washington,” she said. “We need his strength and brilliance.”
During the reception, as temperatures hovered in the 50s and a steady breeze blew across the lawn from the Intracoastal Waterway, women wearing designer dresses and not a few Jimmy Choo red heels tiptoed around the pool clutching furs and wraps and clustering near heat lamps, sipping wine described as Trump Champagne.
Both men and women nibbled on classic American fare: Burgers, mac and cheese and even pigs in a blanket. One guest declared the creamy mac and cheese “the best I ever had.”
The American theme continued during dinner: A salad featuring strawberries, raspberries, goat cheese and blueberries atop iceberg lettuce; sliced beef brisket with cheddar twice-baked potato and onion rings; plus apple pie with whipped cream and chocolate brownies.
Trump’s physician, who recently advised the president to cut back on cholesterol-rich foods, might not have approved of the menu choices, but the guests dove in and the brownies disappeared quickly.
Trump’s recent physical was fodder for guest Bob Abramson: “Why is Trump in such good health? Victory laps!” Abramson quipped.
On Oct. 27, The Palm Beach Post first reported Toni Holt Kramer’s planned Jan. 18 inaugural celebration, with its relatively affordable ticket price of $300. Eleven days later, the event sold out in the main ballroom, surprising Holt Kramer, who then rented out the smaller white-and-gold ballroom, too. With the low ticket price, meant to make the event affordable to people not among the 1 percent, Holt Kramer found sponsors to help pay for the food, bands, flowers and other costs associated with a grand party.
The party now is slated to be an annual affair, and Holt Kramer announced at the end of the evening that people had already agreed to help pay for next year’s party.
With the momentum created by Trump’s presidency and the party, Holt Kramer plans to use the platform to drive her female Trumpettes (and male Trumpsters) into a re-election campaign, Trump 2020.
As guests departed, they were given a gift to help with the cause: Trump 2020 red ballcaps.