WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — There are a lot of reasons why Donald Trump is expected to triumph in Tuesday’s Florida primary, where the GOP presidential front-runner enjoys a commanding lead of more than 20 points in the polls.
But there’s a very crucial one that shouldn’t be overlooked: Trump is Florida Man … well, the candidate for that type of voter, at least.
Florida Man, if you weren’t already aware, is a descriptor and an avatar of the Sunshine State’s most outlandish residents. These include the Florida Man who insisted the ghost of WWE legend Macho Man Randy Savage haunted a local wrestling match; the one who subdued and then vowed to eat the shark that bit him; the guy who showed up hammered to a Mothers Against Drunk Driving banquet in his honor and the thief who stashed a chainsaw in his pants — all chronicled in the @_FloridaMan Twitter account. This resonates, in part, because it exemplifies a very specific and weirdcare-free ethos that is unique to Florida. The state is home to an often bizarre mishmash of nouveau riche ostentation, sunburnt Southern swagger and a kind of meth-addled YOLO philosophy.
“Florida’s a weird state, it’s very split,” said Sebastian Sultzer a student originally from Deerfield Beach in Palm Beach County. “Miami is very different from North Florida.”
Trump, so far as we know, has never done any of these things, but consider his career in this context and you can begin to hear echoes of this character. Just switch his name for Florida Man and you’ll see what we mean:
Florida Man purchases a private jet and enjoys watching Jean Claude Van Damme’s “Bloodsport” while airborne.
Florida Man attempts to sell meat in a high-end electronics store.
Florida Man appears on “WWE Raw,” and showers the audience with $100 bills.
“This is my second home,” Trump bellowed during a rally on Sunday in Boca Raton, Palm Beach County, in reference to his numerous properties in the state. Like so many New Yorkers before him, the businessman spends increasing amounts of his time in Florida, reveling in the sun and favorable tax laws.
“I love Florida!” he roared, his Queens accent bending the state’s name into “FLORI-DUH,” somewhat appropriately. “Speaking of Florida, we love Doral,” he added, referring to the Trump National Golf Resort in outer Miami. “Hundreds of acres owned by Donald Trump.”
Despite Trump’s Queens accent, his decades in New York real estate and an endorsement from former Yankees star Paul O’Neil, Florida remains his spiritual home. The Sunshine State’s schlock-per-capita is truly a thing to behold and its monuments to American excess and outsized ambition are utterly Trumpian. This state is not only home to Disney World, SeaWorld and the Panhandle’s so-called “Redneck Riviera,” but also Versailles, a 90,000-square-foot McMansion in Orange County that is America’s largest private residence.
It’s a kind of “Florida independence,” said Amy Janiero, a supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) from Jupiter, Palm Beach County. “We joked that Florida takes pride in screwing up elections.” She added that if her state helps split the vote Tuesday, “Florida would love it, we caused a brokered convention!”
This is also a state where the housing crisis hit hard, and it’s still America’s risky mortgage capital. Abandoned McMansions are no less part of the state’s lore as Splash Mountain and hanging chads. The state is now the setting of “The Vanilla Ice Project,” a show on the DIY Network in which the “Ice Ice Baby” rapper, whose real name is Robert Van Winkle, buys foreclosed McMansions, applies a fresh coat of paint to great rooms, makes some kind of “stop, collaborate and listen” joke, flips the house and buzzes off.
The real estate mogul himself had to foreclose on the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Fort Lauderdale. And though he has never had to foreclose on a prefabricated mansion in a far-flung exurb, he did file a Chapter 11 on something called “Trump Castle Associates.”
However, Trump doesn’t resonate everywhere in Florida, especially in the southeast, with its large Latino population, less conservative New York transplants and generally more urban voting habits. Polling has shown the reality TV star to be underperforming in the area, and his team hasn’t opened any campaign offices here, opting instead to locate them in and around northern and western locales like Daytona Beach and Sarasota.
Indeed, one of the ironies of Trump’s relationship to the state is that most of his properties are situated along the southeast coast where his support is weakest. The Trump National Doral Miami golf resort he mentioned in his Boca Raton speech is actually surrounded by the state’s highest concentration of Venezuelan immigrants, not exactly a key constituency for the real estate mogul.
During a rally for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in West Palm Beach, Jonathan Vine of Delray Beach remarked upon the state’s quirky demographics. “Down here, in south Florida, there’s more Rubio supporters,” he said. “I’m from New York, my wife is from New Jersey, everyone in this row is from New York. Northern Florida is the real south. It’s the same thing that you would get in Georgia or elsewhere.”
But Trump knows how to play to his Florida Man base, even if he is mostly removed from it. In 2006, he had a 40-foot-wide American flag raised atop an 80-foot-pole at his Mar-A-Lago club in West Palm Beach, where he will hold his now-customary election night press conference. He was fined for violating the upscale town’s rigorous zoning regulations and used the penalties to denounce the town’s anti-patriotic on national television.
It was a brilliant move, simultaneously impressing Florida Man with the magnificence of his property and the breadth of his patriotism, while utterly angering Palm Beach’s “hoity-toity” society types, further ingratiating himself to Florida Man, with his populist outlook. One imagines Florida Man scrunched in a kiddie pool, sipping a beer, his bent knees and protruding belly forming a kind of fleshy archipelago, nodding in approval.
“People look at his money and see how much money he has and are impressed,” said Sari Vine, who also attended Rubio’s rally in West Palm Beach.
He make all these promises that are impossible to fulfill.
“He’s not going to fulfill one promise,” her husband, Jonathan Vine, added. “He make all these promises that are impossible to fulfill.”
It’s this mix of ostentation and bravado that may help explain Trump’s polling success here over home state senator Rubio. Compare that to Ohio, while Trump is fighting to eek out a win against the Buckeye State’s Gov. John Kasich (R). Whereas Ohio’s populist wing is animated by the economic disruption of a decades-long offering of reliable working class jobs with good benefits and robust pensions, Florida’s is motivated by a less modest desire for a steroidal version of the American Dream, something Trump can, and has, offered up to the state’s residents time and again.
And Trump’s bottomless confidence in himself and his way of life is something that no doubt appeals to people like the Florida Man who vowed to eat the shark who bit him. Truly, Trump might be the only person in history who is his own spirit animal; his ID, ego and superego are all one single, solipsistic Freudian nightmare.
This attitude was on full display when Trump left his Sunday night rally. Not only did his helicopter buzz the crowd to thunderous applause, but it did so as speakers piped in the theme from “Air Force One,” a movie about a president who battles terrorists at 30,000 feet as they try to hijack his plane. It’s the quintessential movie for a Florida Man presidential candidate who used to watch “Bloodsport” aboard his own plane.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.