The Mar-a-Lago Ultimatum

Donald Trump prepares to hold a "telerally" at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on January 13, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa.
Trump has not exactly been traveling to St. Louis and Milwaukee to meet with the bundlers at the local Rotary Club: As could be expected of a former president, bundlers come to him. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Theodore Schleifer
January 16, 2024

Next month, Donald Trump will host a Friday evening reception at Mar-a-Lago that, on the surface, appears to resemble any number of his previous high-dollar fundraisers at Trump Org properties. “Join us for an exclusive experience with President Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States,” reads the invite for the February 16 event. Tickets range from just $1,000 to $100,000, with donors at the highest level gaining access to a private roundtable, a V.I.P. reception, a Trump photo op, and a signed hat.

But this particular Mar-a-Lago experience has taken on much more symbolic significance inside Trump world, where it’s being thrown like a gauntlet at members of the Trump-weary megadonor class who have been sitting on the sidelines—especially after Trump’s blowout, 30-point victory over Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley in Iowa. In private messaging, campaign fundraising chief Meredith O’Rourke has effectively positioned the Mar-a-Lago event as an epoch-defining moment on her team’s calendar, according to multiple sources. The Trump campaign has put out the word to major G.O.P. donors that if they’re not on the Trump train by the time of that February event, it will be noted on their permanent record—and any chance of forgiveness will get much more remote thereafter, according to people who have gotten the message. (The Trump camp declined to comment.) “I don’t know if there’s a deadline where we won’t accept your money,” said one Trump fundraising source of the Mar-a-Lago event. But “if you want to be a kitchen cabinet person, that’s a cutoff.”