In Florida, the land of hanging chads and where the Cash Me Outside girl is a local celebrity, a porn star and self-proclaimed former mistress of the president of the United States wouldn’t miss the opportunity for a drive-by burlesque show.
That it was within spitting distance of the Winter White House at Mar-a-Lago and the golf course that bears Donald Trump’s name, made Stormy Daniels’ stop on her “Make America Horny Again” tour a perfect fit in the bizarre news that regularly emanates out of Palm Beach County.
And so, as President Trump addressed the nation on U.S. bombs dropping on Syria on Friday, Stormy — her given name is Stephanie Clifford — a few hours later solicited patrons at Ultra Gentlemen’s Club to slap dollars on her oiled-up body.
Throughout the weekend, residents would show up just to take their photograph in front of club’s marquee announcing Daniels’ appearance. Her appearance added at least a footnote to Palm Beach County’s history. Maybe not as a big as the 2000 presidential recount, but certainly was on pace with with the face-eating teen or Danielle Bregoli, a 14-year-old from Boynton Beach whose utterance on “Dr. Phil” turned her into Cash Me Outside girl.
The legendary meme Florida Man didn’t stand a chance to “trump” the local headlines generated by Stormy this last week. The porn star’s revelations about an affair with Trump are smack in the middle of why the office of the president’s fix-it lawyer got raided last week by federal authorities.
South Florida author Carl Hiaasen — whose novels mine Weird Florida like few else — couldn’t make this up.
“They want to see what the big guy put his hands on,” said Fabian Uribe, a limo driver who ferried a group to the club and then stayed for the show. “I’ll pay $35 just to see what she looks like. I guess the president didn’t want to come.”
A man visiting from New York who didn’t want to give his full name said he showed up at the club with two friends because “We support the First Amendment.”
And there were T-shirts for sale with plenty of Stormy quotes, such as, “You want your 2nd Amendment Rights. She just wants her 1st,” alluding to Daniels’ fight to get out of a confidentiality agreement with Trump.
Yet, like one of Trump’s blustery tweets, in the end, Daniels’ appearance in Palm Beach County was a lot of sound signifying nothing except maybe the deafening hum of the daily reality show now called America.
After all, Stormy had a lot of competition. Besides Syria, there was the previously mentioned raid on lawyer Michael Cohen’s office, the release of fired FBI Director James Comey’s new book, and the drumbeat of special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s ever-present investigation.
Could you blame anybody for claiming fatigue by Saturday night for Daniels’ repeat performances? Even the protestors – who yelled out “pervert” to men and women entering the bar for her shows on Friday night – didn’t show up.
But others eventually did and by about 11:20 p.m. when Daniels finally appeared — dressed in an exotic dancer’s version of a Wonder Woman get-up to the song “American Girl” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers — the club was packed. She skirted reporters outside and kept whatever comments she made to those throwing money at her – many of them women – around the stage.
Any venue where women take off their clothes for cash to pulsing music while a DJ on a loudspeaker screams “Bottles!” is surreal, but Daniels’ appearance added a new twist. While there were plenty of middle-aged men in Hawaiian print shirts, the crowd tended toward the penny loafer, Palm Beach casual set by show time.
Some regulars had enough and left before the star attraction took the stage.
“I just got bored,” said John Forrest, a contractor from Palm Beach County. “I don’t think she is doing the right thing. She is just exploiting Donald Trump.”
And indeed, many of those at the show Saturday supported Trump.
“I’m a Trumper. I just want to see what all the drama is about,” said Amanda Nelson. “It’s all hearsay anyway. You never know, he may walk through the door.”
For the record, Trump is expected to arrive at Mar-a-Lago Monday afternoon. He’ll be greeted by dueling billboards: one calling for his impeachment, the other thanking him.
As for Daniels’ performance -- too risqué to report in detail -- it certainly lived up to a star performance. The real winner, though, appeared to be the Ultra Gentlemen’s Club.
Owner Stacy Saccal had booked Daniels in January and then couldn’t believe it when the spinning satellites of constant controversy orbiting the president collided when Cohen -- the attorney who paid $130,000 in hush money to Daniels – had his New York office raided by the FBI on Monday.
“I cannot believe how it happened,” Saccal said. “I am stunned it worked out the way it did. I was worried she wouldn’t be relevant at this point.”
VIP rooms on Saturday were selling at $600 and $1,000 depending on the size, she said.
Still, those looking for drama on Saturday night should have been at the club the night before when a group of about a dozen protesters showed up outside.
A glass bottle was thrown at the group by someone in one car. It shattered at the feet of Erwin Bruner, wearing a red Donald Trump hat. Two motorcyclists cursed and gave an obscene gesture at the protesters, as well.
The Trump supporters said they were angry Daniels was receiving media attention and profiting from claims she made against Trump.
“It’s just tactless,” said Dan, a Trump supporter holding an American flag who would not give his full name. “She’s just trying to get a few more miles out of this.”
Other Trump supporters were taking Daniels’ strip-club tour less seriously. Ryan Farley, from West Palm Beach, held a Trump flag in one hand and a black sharpie in the other. He hoped to get Daniels to autograph his flag.
“I told my wife I’ll either be home in one hour,” Farley said, laughing, “or five hours.”
Daniel’s attorney, Michael Avenatti, poked fun at the modest protest and Trump, tweeting out that it was “the largest protest of kind in American history.”
Palm Beach Daily News reporter Ian Cohen contributed to this story.