March 3, 2021

A Conservative Beachhead in the Sunshine

PALM BEACH, Fla. — The mid-’90s were rough on Democrats, especially here in this beachhead of fabulously wealthy political donors. Their money wasn’t enough to keep the Democratic Party in control of Congress. The famous Kennedy estate on North Ocean Boulevard, known as the “Winter White House” during the administration of John F. Kennedy, was sold to a New York banker who now holds Republican fund-raisers there.

And then Rush Limbaugh moved to town.

Ever since, Palm Beach and South Florida have become a magnet for conservative media personalities. Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, Dick Morris, Conrad Black and Lou Dobbs have all moved in over the years.

Newsmax, a Web site and magazine popular with Tea Party conservatives, decided to establish its headquarters not in the conventional media hubs of New York or Washington, but instead in West Palm Beach.

Welcome to the Right Coast.

“Fox should really build a studio here,” Ms. Coulter said. Fox does, in fact, have affiliate studios in West Palm Beach and Miami. And is not uncommon at all to see the likes of Mr. Morris, a former Clinton adviser turned conservative analyst, or Ms. Coulter on Fox News via satellite from the Sunshine State.

As Ms. Coulter walked out of one of the Ritz-Carltons in the area (there are about a dozen), a middle-aged woman with sun-bleached hair stopped her and did the opposite of what usually happens in Manhattan when people notice the provocative pundit on the streets: she praised her politics and asked for a picture.

“I love what you do!” the woman squealed as Ms. Coulter walked away.

Opinions differ over why so many conservative media stars have relocated here. No state income tax. Only two hours from New York and Washington, yet a world away in mind-set. Year-round warm weather.

“There’s nothing ideological about it,” said Mr. Morris, who moved to Delray Beach six years ago. “Unless you assume that conservatives have gotten over their liberal masochism. And part of it is that they realized it’s not necessary to be freezing to be virtuous.”

But it was Mr. Limbaugh’s arrival in 1996 that appears to be anno Domini in this conservative punditocracy. Gay Gaines, a longtime confidante and fund-raiser for Newt Gingrich, remembers the occasion well. Mr. Limbaugh now lives in an estate two doors down from her on North Ocean Boulevard. He fell in love with Palm Beach, she said, after visiting her over Memorial Day weekend in 1995.

“I might have a picture,” she said, disappearing into a sitting room just off her palatial living room, which faces the Atlantic and has floor-to-ceiling picture windows. Sure enough, she emerged a few seconds later with a photo of Mr. Limbaugh, Mr. Gingrich and William J. Bennett, the former adviser to Presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush. The photo shows Mr. Limbaugh playing air guitar, Mr. Bennett playing an actual guitar and Mr. Gingrich holding a beer.

“That was taken at 2 a.m.,” Ms. Gaines said, smiling. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Ms. Gaines plays host to many a fund-raiser and dinner party at her home, entertaining Mr. Limbaugh, Larry Kudlow, the CNBC host, and others. “We would love to get Matt,” she said wistfully of Mr. Drudge. But he doesn’t like appearing at fund-raisers, she said. And she did not want to impose on him by asking. “I don’t ever want them to think I’m trading on that,” she said, referring to her friends’ celebrity.

A representative for Mr. Limbaugh said he was not doing any media interviews at the moment. Mr. Drudge, who is famously reclusive and press-wary, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Limbaugh is actually less of a presence in Palm Beach than he used to be. Since he lost nearly all of his hearing, friends say he has found large gatherings difficult. Ms. Gaines, however, said he did seem to enjoy small dinners in her dining room, which has padded fabric wallpaper that improves the acoustics.

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