The famed Breakers Palm Beach Resort was once known as the gilded gateway to the South. Built by Henry Morrison Flagler, one of America’s original oil barons, the pleasure palace has played host to wealthy vacationing families for over a century. A massive exotic fish tank serves as a sprawling counter for its oceanfront seafood bar. Nattily dressed bartenders mix Skinny Mojitos as the posh clientele gaze through the panoramic windows, casually observing a thunderous late-summer storm hanging in the distance over the Atlantic Ocean.
A few golf shots away from The Breakers, Donald J. Trump presides over Mar A Lago, another fairytale landmark on America’s Gold Coast. Long a habitué of the new moneyed Palm Beach set, the ex-president has made his winter White House his permanent headquarters as he plots a possible return to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Palm Beach, an enclave for wealthy retirees, is derisively know as a redoubt of “nurses and purses.” But Florida’s reputation as a magnet for elderly snowbirds and their buxom fortune hunters is vestigial. Taxes are low, housing is affordable, and the freedom to set one’s course in the Sunshine State is almost limitless.
In the last twenty years, Florida's population has grown faster than any state in the union. During peak season, up to a thousand newcomers settle on the peninsula every day. Stars and entrepreneurs lend their glamor and money. Peter Thiel, Dan Loeb, Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen, Tommy Hilfiger, Carl Icahn are among Florida’s glitterati.
Ben Shapiro, conservative media star and founder of the Daily Wire, has succumbed to Florida’s economic and political charms. “Florida is a fantastic location,” he enthuses. “A state that still protects core freedoms, provides a friendly tax environment. California drove us out. Florida took us in,” Shapiro explains. “We haven’t regretted our decision for a single second.”
As the Spectator World observes, “The result has been a wealth transfer of epic proportions.” The magazine reports that “[s]ince 2000, more than $200 billion has landed in Florida from the rest of America.”
In February 2020, the outbreak of the pandemic threatened to bring Florida to a standstill and, with it, an abrupt end to the boom. But things turned out differently. Florida flourished despite the COVID panic. The reason: Governor Ron DeSantis. While the most of the country followed Fauci's restrictive directives, Florida embraced common sense. Guided by the motto, “Choose freedom over Fauci,” DeSantis quickly moved to reopen businesses and schools after a brief lockdown. With support from the public, he lifted mask requirements in schools.
His rebellious handling of the pandemic has made DeSantis a “hero of freedom” to many conservative onlookers. It has also made him a serious challenger to Donald Trump.
Sal Nuzzo, who serves as vice president of policy for the James Madison Institute, a nonprofit policy think tank in Tallahassee, attributes the governor’s success, in part, to the groundwork done by his three Republican predecessors: Jeb Bush, Charlie Christ, and Rick Scott. Nuzzo cites their commitment to school choice, increasing access to healthcare, and dedication to low taxes. Writing in the Spectator World, the analyst counsels that “other states would be wise to learn” from Florida’s example.
Florida does not levy a state income tax. This advantage is not subject to the whims of politics. Article VII of the Florida State Constitution explicitly prohibits the imposition of one. Add to this the fact that Florida, in striking contrast to the federal government, has a balanced budget and an extremely lean administration. Florida's per capita government spending is the lowest in the country.
But the architects of paradise are not exclusively working from the governor’s office in the capital of Tallahassee, and many of them hail from Latin America. The first wave of Hispanic immigrants to the state arrived from Cuba when Fidel Castro and Che Guevara tore the Caribbean island apart in their communist revolution in 1959. Many wealthy and well educated refugees found shelter among the Everglades. They were soon followed by millions more from all over Central America. Not all of them came with noble intentions. Drug traffickers laid a narco-trail through the swamps into the American heartland.
In 1980, Castro emptied his prisons to spite his gringo arch-enemy. The infamous Mariel Boatlift deposited many criminals on Florida’s shores. In his 1983 Hollywood blockbuster, "Scarface,” based on the 1929 novel of the same name, director Oliver Stone created the mesmerizing fictional drug lord, “Tony Montana.” Played by Al Pacino, the machine gun wielding, cocaine snorting, anti-hero has become Florida lore. In reality, the state owes much of its wealth and character to its law abiding Cuban-American citizens at the nexus of North and Latin America culture.
Cuban-Americans have presided over Miami politics for a quarter of a century. The current mayor, Francis X. Suarez, is eagerly courting the tech world and private equity firms to grow the city’s global reach. Suarez proudly tells Die Weltwoche, “In the past 18 months, $2 trillion assets under management companies have moved to Miami; more than 9,000 jobs have been created brining $1 billion in wages to our economy.”
Many conservatives, however, observe the mass exodus from blue states with trepidation. They fear that the interstate immigrants will import their political convictions and push Florida’s politics leftward. Suarez, however, is copacetic. He insists the opposite is happening. “We have seen a ‘red wave’ across Florida, which implies that most of the people moving to Florida are either Republican or switching party affiliation to Republican.”
Indeed, a political shift is emerging in the Sunshine State. After its founding in 1845, Democrats dominated the 27th state for a century and a half. This changed in 1998, with the election of Jeb Bush, the younger brother of former President George W. Bush, as governor. Since then, Republicans have won every gubernatorial election. Last year, Republicans overtook Democrats in voter registration. The Florida Republican party leadership declared this as a "milestone moment in Florida’s history".
With accelerated immigration, the political color of the entire state is changing: from blue to purple to increasingly red. This transformation is not, as is commonly suggested, due to white immigration. On the contrary, the population is becoming more ethnically diverse.
What happens in Florida could have far reaching consequences for national politics. The state has long been considered one of the most hotly contested "swing states" and a key to the White House. If Florida moves further to the right, Republicans will gain an advantage in the fight for the presidency that should not be underestimated.
The two favorites for the 2024 Republican presidential primaries are both Floridians:Trump, who to this day refuses to accept defeat to Joe Biden in the past election; and DeSantis. Since his election as governor in 2018, not a week goes by that DeSantis doesn't generate national headlines. With his high profile opposition to President Joe Biden's agenda, DeSantis has become the most prominent and one of the most popular elected officials in the GOP. He has enacted a “Stop Woke Law,” which bans Critical Race Theory in classrooms. He promoted a law which prohibits the teaching of LGBTW sexuality in elementary school classrooms. And last week, he sent 50 illegal immigrants transported to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, the posh refuge of the Democratic elite, in protest of Biden's failing immigration policy.
As the Spectator World puts it: “In Florida, things feel different: more exciting, more open-minded, more optimistic, more American.”
Florida is the place where America is still America — the "land of the free," as it is praised in the national anthem — an America which is increasingly disappearing, or has long since disappeared, in most of the country. If DeSantis is re-elected in November, how Florida goes, so, too, could the rest of the country in 2024.
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