President Donald Trump arrived for Christmas break on Friday by soaking up the adulation of supporters at Palm Beach International Airport and along his motorcade route to Mar-a-Lago — and by wading into Florida’s 2018 race for governor.
After signing a landmark tax overhaul bill in Washington, the president boarded Air Force One and landed at PBIA at about 1:35 p.m. While the plane was taxiing, Trump tweeted his support for U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Palm Coast, who flew with Trump to a rally in Pensacola this month and is expected to launch a campaign for Florida governor in early 2018.
“Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!” Trump tweeted.
Trump is making his 10th visit to Mar-a-Lago since becoming president. He’s expected to return to Washington on New Year’s Day.
As he exited Air Force One on an 80-degree afternoon Friday, Trump waved, pumped his fist and mouthed “Wow” to a cheering crowd of about 200 supporters assembled on the tarmac to greet him. Trump bypassed the limousine awaiting him at the bottom of the steps and walked over to the crowd and spent more than 20 minutes shaking hands, autographing items and talking with the group.
“Are you ready to pay lower taxes?” a microphone picked up the president asking.
Trump also called the tax bill “a very, very big deal,” said Palm Beach County Republican Chairman Michael Barnett, who came to the tarmac with a group of Haitian pastors. Barnett said Trump recognized one of the pastors, Roland Joseph, from a meeting he had during the 2016 campaign with Haitian community leaders in Miami.
Trump at one point held up a supporter’s hand-lettered sign that said: “Keep On Tweeting!”
Rabbi Alan Sherman of Wellington removed the “Israel Supports Donald Trump” yarmulke he was wearing and had the president autograph it.
Jewish voters typically tilt heavily Democratic and supported Hillary Clinton by a large margin in 2016. But, Sherman said, “I think there are a lot of Jewish people, particularly after this UN thing, that are going to come around and support this president.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Hayley this week gave a forceful defense of Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy there before the UN General Assembly voted Thursday to condemn the move. Israel and the U.S. were among nine nations voting against the resolution.
Trump’s 24-year-old daughter, Tiffany, who was born in West Palm Beach, accompanied her father on Air Force One. First lady Melania Trump and sons Barron and Donald Jr. arrived in Palm Beach earlier this week.
As Trump’s motorcade headed east on Southern Boulevard toward Mar-a-Lago, it slowed to a near-stop outside Dreher Park so the president could smile and wave to a group of Jewish supporters, who praised him for commuting the 27-year sentence of Sholom Rubashkin, a former executive of a kosher meatpacking business who was convicted of bank fraud.
Trump supporters far outnumbered opponents along the motorcade route.
Trump’s Twitter praise for DeSantis raises the three-term House member’s profile in the race for the 2018 Republican nomination for governor. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a less-than-enthusiastic Trump supporter in 2016, has topped the GOP field in fundraising and early polls.
DeSantis has not opened a campaign for governor, but his federal campaign committee quickly publicized Trump’s tweet.
“I’m grateful to have the President’s support and appreciate what he has done — from appointing great judges to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to signing a pro-growth tax cut — to get our country back on track,” DeSantis responded. “As an Iraq veteran, I’m especially appreciative of his efforts to support our military and our veterans. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!”
Democrat Gwen Graham’s campaign for governor was also eager to publicize Trump’s tweet.
“Floridians want a leader who will stand up to the president — not protect him. As governor, Gwen Graham will hold Trump accountable and defend our state from the president’s assault on public education, his plans to drill off our beaches, and his attacks against our most vulnerable citizens,” said Graham spokesman Matt Harringer.
While DeSantis has not announced his 2018 plans, he does not appear to be seeking a fourth term in Congress. His federal committee raised only $108,704 during the first nine months of 2017. Meanwhile, a state PAC called Fund for Florida’s Future that is expected to back a DeSantis gubernatorial run has raised more than $1.7 million since April.
Speculation about Trump showing support for DeSantis has been percolating since DeSantis and Trump flew to Pensacola on Dec. 8 for a rally where DeSantis introduced the president. According to a White House pool report, Trump’s Friday tweet came shortly after DeSantis appeared on a Fox News program that was playing on TVs on Air Force One.
Staff writers Christine Stapleton, Jorge Milian and Rachel Frazin contributed to this story.