WEST PALM BEACH, Florida — At Mar-a-Lago’s poolside bar as the sun set, and inside the grand ballroom over dinner, the guests at an event celebrating President Donald Trump at his exclusive club repeated one word: socialism.
It’s something the president has been bringing up more and more lately, as Democrats jump in the race to challenge him next year. From his State of the Union address to his tweets, Trump in recent weeks has begun framing his reelection as a choice between him and “radical socialists.”
His most ardent supporters, for whom it was never really even a choice, are spreading his message.
Dressed in sequined ball gowns in red, white, and blue, with cowboy hats and boots for the event Saturday night that was themed “Country Comes to Mar-a-Lago,” hundreds of Trump fans danced to country music around decorative hay bales and cowboys doing rope tricks. They described the president as reminiscent of a straight-talking cowboy from old Westerns and warned of the dangers of socialism, repeatedly bringing up newly elected, liberal firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, instead of any of the Democrats Trump would face in 2020.
Just minutes into the night’s speeches, Toni Holt Kramer, a Mar-a-Lago member and founder of the Trumpettes, the group that organized the gathering, proclaimed: “This country will never go socialist.”
The crowd cheered loudly, with many on their feet.
Kramer had briefly interrupted Eric Trump, the president’s son, to make her point about socialism, as he was thanking her for organizing the event. Later in the night, she took the stage to repeat that line at least one more time to even louder cheers.
Other speakers, including Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, listed what Pirro called the “radical socialists’ plot to remake America.”
“Do you believe in free health care for everyone, including illegals?” Pirro asked, as the crowd loudly yelled “no.”
“Do you believe in the Green New Deal?” she asked, mentioning a sweeping proposal to tackle climate change that top Democrats have signed on to. Again the crowd loudly yelled “no.”
Pirro then went on to joke about the information in a set of frequently asked questions related to the Green New Deal resolution that Ocasio-Cortez’s office posted and later distanced itself from. Conservatives have seized on the information in those answers to build opposition to the resolution.
As soon as she said Ocasio-Cortez’s name, the crowd booed, and a second later, they laughed as Pirro talked about the representative’s concerns about “cow flatulence,” which is partially responsible for creating millions of tons of methane annually.
“Because she said that emissions are dangerous, and she said at some point we have to decide how many hamburgers we need to eat.”
“Do you think they should be telling us what we should and shouldn’t eat?”
Although Bernie Sanders is the only declared democratic socialist running against Trump so far, the president started framing the entire Democratic Party as socialists more regularly before the midterm elections. A poll conducted by pro-Trump group America First around that time included two socialism-related questions, which the group shared with BuzzFeed News. The group found that 19% of those surveyed were open to transforming to a socialist economy, and 48% said they would be less likely to support a candidate who supports transitioning to a more socialist system.
Since the midterm elections, Trump and his allies have been using socialism even more as a way to try to take advantage of the fault lines within the Democratic Party as its voters try to decide what type of candidate could defeat Trump. But the messaging has also captivated his base.
In interviews with more than a dozen attendees at Saturday’s party, almost all of them brought up socialism on their own as one of the main reasons they were supporting the president. Many of them also brought up Ocasio-Cortez, without being asked, as a reason for their current disdain for the Democratic Party and confidence in Trump’s reelection. (Reminded that she wasn't running for president, they said she was still influencing their policy proposals.)
“Of course, he’s going to win when you have people like AOC,” said Alice Warren, 77, a Palm Beach–area resident, referring to the representative as a “sly fox.” Millennials, she said, “have never been educated” about socialism. “They are dumb as door knobs. They don’t know anything about government or civics. They know about the #MeToo movement.”
Steve Feiertag, also of Palm Beach, said, “I think AOC and Bernie are the best thing for Republicans with AOC pushing everybody to the left.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not respond to comment for this story.
Patrice Gentry, who immigrated from France in 1982 and now lives in West Palm Beach, said he was seeing parallels between the Democratic Party today and what France was like when he left. “It was a catastrophe, so I came here,” said Gentry, who was wearing an American flag shirt. “You see the Democrats moving toward that: They want to take the planes out, the cars out, and open borders.”
Roxanne Schulman, who splits her time between Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and Palm Beach, said she found the Democrats’ messaging on economic issues “scary.” “The Democrat Party that I grew up with is nonexistent. Nowadays, they want to give too much away for free. The country can't sustain it.”
Socialism, she said, “is a real threat because so many young people don’t understand the impact of it.”
The Mar-a-Lago event, which included a cocktail hour and dinner as well as a photo line with actor Jon Voight for VIP guests, was the second celebration for the Trumpettes, who want to make it an annual gathering while Trump is in office. The group was formed by wealthy socialites in 2016 with the goal of getting women to support Trump. It was not a fundraiser, according to organizers. Guests paid between $550 and $2,000 for a ticket to help cover the cost of the event. (BuzzFeed News paid for a media ticket that covered the cost of dinner.)
Among the draws for the event were conservative media personalities, including Pirro and Mike Lindell, widely known as the star of the ubiquitous TV ads for his MyPillow company; musician Lee Green, whose song “God Bless the USA” plays at most Trump events; and Brian Kolfage, an Iraq War veteran who created a GoFundMe page to raise money to build a wall along the southern border. Kolfage received a long standing ovation from the crowd.
The president also sent a video message for the event, thanking his supporters and listing his accomplishments, including on North Korea just before he flies to Vietnam to meet with the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un. “Who knows were it will go?” he said of the US–North Korea relationship. “We’ll see.”
Trump was also present physically at the event — in a way. Several cardboard cutouts of the president were lined up along the entrance of the ballroom for guests to take pictures with.
Sporting red “Trump 2020” and “Make America Great Again” hats, the guests also dismissed any concerns about special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, which is reported to be coming to a close soon, hurting Trump’s reelection chances.
“Really? a Russian agent?” Pirro said during her speech as the crowd laughed.
Naming former FBI officials James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Peter Strzok, Pirro went on to say: “They did everything they could to conduct a bloodless coup and overthrow our president, and to this day their co-conspirator Robert Mueller is still in the trenches trying to dig up nothing!”
There wasn’t much about Trump that concerned this crowd (although one guest joked Trump probably wouldn’t get a Husband of the Year award anytime soon). Even though Ocasio-Cortez kept coming up, attendees insisted they weren’t actually worried about her hurting the president’s chances either.
Karen Hardin, another Trumpette at the event, put it this way: “She’s a little bug who’s going to get squashed.”
Peter Strzok’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this post.