Donald Trump whisked into the lobby of his Doral resort on Wednesday for the first time since becoming president of the United States, waving to applauding supporters, posing for a photo with a guest’s yippy Maltese terrier, before heading upstairs to a $250,000-a-plate fundraiser with wealthy lobbyists and other donors paying big for private time with the commander in chief.
Trump was a regular at the Trump Doral before his presidency but hasn’t been back since the 2016 election. During a quick circuit through the BLT Prime steakhouse off the lobby, he plugged the message his 2020 campaign strategists think will be key to carrying Florida again: closing the diplomatic and economic openings offered Cuba during the Obama administration.
“We’re giving a tremendous help to the people from Cuba living in Miami,” Trump said to hoots from the crowd gathered in the restaurant to see him. “I had tremendous support from the people from Cuba. I’m doing the right thing. We’re tough on Cuba, because they’re not doing the right thing for our people from Cuba.”
Trump lost Doral’s home county of Miami-Dade by 30 points in 2016 but narrowly carried Florida. His campaign credited support from Cuban-Americans for the narrow victory in a state that Obama carried twice.
The president’s late-night arrival Tuesday ended the Trump Doral’s status as an oddity in the overlapping realms of the president’s travels and vast resort holdings. Critics chide Trump’s frequent visits to golf resorts he owns elsewhere in Florida and in New Jersey, but the Trump Doral hadn’t landed on his presidential itineraries until his 29th month in office.
“He hasn’t been here since the election, so everyone was happy to see him,” said David Feder, director of the hotel since 2014.
Trump’s time in the White House coincided with the Doral resort’s losing ground to Miami competitors, according to reports the hotel filed with the county tax office, and a Trump Organization consultant blamed issues with the brand. Trump’s visit came on a particularly slow Tuesday at the Doral.
The BLT Prime restaurant had five tables filled as the sun set Tuesday, and two people at a bar large enough for 30. A manager said the occupancy rate was just 23 percent, and a senior executive at Trump Doral confirmed vacant beds were close to the 75 percent mark, blaming Miami’s slow summer season.
The president’s 2018 financial disclosure said the Doral generated $76 million in income for him last year, and it has consistently been a top performer on the annual reports.
A presidential arrival was obvious Tuesday from the Secret Service clamp-down. A reporter riding the hotel shuttle from the Bobby Jones villa to the Trump Doral clubhouse was ordered out of the vehicle to let a bomb-sniffing dog check for sabotage. There were other clues, too, like a maintenance worker running a gas-powered leaf blower outside the lobby at 11 p.m.
When he was just a famous real estate mogul and television star, Trump was a frequent visitor to his Doral property. His persona loomed over the hotel decor, and the lobby was peppered with framed photos of him and his appearances on magazine covers (including a bogus Time cover).
His return as a polarizing president finds a lobby stripped of the framed Trump photos, save for one old marketing display of his run as star of the hit “Apprentice” TV
show. Black-and-white portraits of Sam Snead, Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer and other golfing icons are the only celebrities guests see on the walls now.
But the Trump name dominates, from the bathrobes in the rooms to the charger sticks sold in the ground-floor gift shop. His visit brought the presidential bustle to match the souvenirs.
There was former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski heading for the lobby, followed by White House adviser Stephen Miller. Presidential daughter Tiffany Trump headed out of the restaurant with some shopping bags. A uniformed military aide interrupted a White House aide’s post-midnight cocktail at the nearly empty bar to note: “If you need secure comms, we have secure comms on the same floor as the president.”
Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and White House aide, walked into BLT for the breakfast buffet shortly after 8 a.m., Wednesday, dressed in a T-shirt and gym shorts. Fox News played on the restaurant’s lone television, airing clips of the president’s 2020 re-election kickoff speech from the night before in Orlando. A waitress made an a la carte exception for the famous guest, delivering an omelette to his corner table for one. Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale later joined him for coffee. Then he agreed to a selfie with Gustavo Garagorry, an aide to Doral city councilman Pete Cabrera.
Cabrera checked into the resort Tuesday night in hopes of saying hello to the president once again. He said he served as Doral’s unofficial greeter to Trump throughout 2016, when most Miami Republicans shunned the nominee. “He loves it here,” Cabrera said. “This is his favorite place.”
Trump had arrived by motorcade shortly before midnight Tuesday. Six hotel guests waited in the hotel’s roped-off lobby in hopes of greeting Trump, whose resort company bought the Doral out of bankruptcy for $150 million in 2012.
“If I see him I am going to yell, ‘Four more years,’ ” said John Tarabocchia, who arrived early Tuesday from New Jersey with his wife and two teenage children for a Miami vacation. Trump stayed in his room, though, dining on what a source said was a late-night cheeseburger from BLT.
Tarabocchia and family were in the lobby again around 11:30 a.m. when Trump arrived to a welcome party of hotel guests. Tarabocchia delivered on his “Four more years” plan. “It was pretty cool,” said Ian Tarabocchia, 17. “He was 10 feet away.”
“The place is looking beautiful,” Trump said. “It’s been a long time.”
A dog was yelping when the president walked through the lobby’s main doors, and didn’t stop as Trump pondered whether to approach the roped-off huddle of guests. The barking came from Baby, a white Maltese brought along by owners Franck and Christine Deckert, on vacation from their adopted home in Port St. Lucie. Christine Deckert shouted a request for a photo, and Trump pointed for her to come forward. She held the dog in her arms as she posed with the president.
“He said come here, come here, because of Baby,” Franck Deckert recalled after the visit. He snapped the photo of Christine and Baby with Trump. “After that, everyone said ‘Can I take a photo with you, too?’ He left.”
“I was so happy,” Christine Deckert said. “We love him, and we’re French.”