By Barbara Marshall – Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Sunday September 18
Stop us if this sounds familiar: Vincent Victor, a pugnacious businessman, playboy and bombastic developer of discount shopping malls called “Victor’s Golden Castle” creates a Miss Universe-like pageant called The Great American Breast Contest which leads to a starring role in a reality TV show called The Vigilantes, which he parlays into a run at the presidency.
Related by Victor’s butler, Billy Baxter, the story portrays Victor as a proudly anti-intellectual attention junkie who spews conspiracy theories and Twitter put-downs. After pummeling his mainstream political opponents to grab the GOP nomination for president, he faces a Democratic opponent he belittles as Blundering Belinda Ball.
Any doubts about the object of Leamer’s lampooning are further erased by the book’s cover art, a caricature of a large jowly man with a wild comb-over in front of an American flag.
As a long-time investigative journalist, Leamer says he sees Trump’s candidacy as a watershed moment in American politics and political journalism.
“Trump exemplifies something extreme that’s happening in American life,” Leamer said. “In the future, politicians are going to imitate him as they did Jack Kennedy.”
Leamer is an equal opportunity skewerer of TV networks, politicians, venal campaign staffs and self-serving journalists.
“It’s an indictment of American journalism,” he says of his portrayal of fawning reporters as well as those still playing by old school rules of conduct for which Victor has no use. “Very few have figured out how to cover (Trump.)”
The cover for Laurence Leamer’s 2016 book parody about Donald Trump’s presidential run.
Like a shark, Victor moves restlessly forward.
As the candidate’s supporters, known as Victor’s Legion, become increasingly violent, the butler describes his boss’s message: “Mr. Victor’s campaign was about anger. If he lanced that boil of rage, he risked dissipating everything. Envy and anger drove the boss. He envied everyone who had more than he had: more houses, more women, more money, more pleasures, just more. And the more he got, the more he wanted. And the more he wanted, the angrier he became at the things he didn’t have, and one of them was the presidency of the United States.”
As a long-time chronicler of the rich and infamous, Leamer has been studying Trump since the author and his wife bought a Palm Beach oceanfront condo in 1994 and began attending occasional parties at the Mar-a-Lago Club.
Trump’s Palm Beach world is the antithesis of the social climbing bastion of wealth and privilege Leamer wrote about in his 2009 Palm Beach book, “Madness Under the Royal Palms: Love and Death Behind the Gates of Palm Beach.”
“I’m still banned from the Bath and Tennis Club for that,” he says.
While not a fan of Trump’s politics, Leamer admires the “Manhattan hillbilly” for bending the Palm Beach hierarchy to his will when he converted Mar-a-Lago into a private club.
“It took daring to come to Palm Beach where you really weren’t wanted,” said Leamer. “Trump is the king of the New Yorkers, the nouveau riche who came down in the ‘80s. He comes blundering into Palm Beach and he’s not accepted. To get accepted in Palm Beach all you have to do is throw your money around. But that’s not Trump.”
The idea for the book came to Leamer in an instant last Easter, while he was in the buffet line at Trump’s golf course clubhousein West Palm Beach.
Writers sometimes need only a single scene to see the entire trajectory of a story.
“Like any other buffet in America, people are running to get the shrimp, lobster and steak,” Leamer said. “But standing next to me is Donald, holding a hamburger just cooked to death.”
Leamer watched Trump with fascination as, despite being surrounded by delectable gourmet delights, the mogul dressed his dry, hard burger.
“He puts a precise circle of ketchup around it about an inch thick. That’s when I thought, this is a novel. His eating habits gave me insight into the character. I admire someone who does what he wants in the midst of these ultra-wealthy people where not a single one would get a hamburger.”
Leamer wrote furiously for three months.
“I wrote in a fever pitch, seven days a week,” he said. “I showed it to my editor in late July.”
But his publisher couldn’t release the book before the 2016 presidential election, so for the first time, Leamer decided to self-publish and offer it online.
In his 15 previous books, Leamer has written about Hollywood stars and the head of a corrupt West Virginia coal mining company. His latest non-fiction book is “The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle that Brought Down the Klan.” He’s also a playwright, whose play about Rose Kennedy, called “Rose,” is currently playing in Chicago.
A fervent admirer of John F. Kennedy, Leamer was still a college student when he traveled to Washington to witness the young president’s inauguration. Years later, he wrote a trilogy of books about the Kennedy family, which places him in a unique position to review the impact of each politician on Palm Beach, a half century and a political affiliation apart.
Which will leave the most lasting legacy on this plush resort town?
Leamer expects his answer will surprise many.
“I think Trump is a more important figure to Palm Beach than JFK ever was,” said Leamer.
Despite being a despised New York outsider, Trump changed the town for the better, argues Leamer, by opening his private Mar-a-Lago Club to anyone — black, white, Jewish or Hispanic — who could afford the $100,000 initiation fee and meet Trump’s approval.
For years, it was an open secret that Jews were banned from membership at several of the island’s other private clubs.
“He opened up the island,” said Leamer. “It’s the most socially beneficial thing Trump’s done in his entire life. He did it to make a buck, but he did it.”
In contrast, the social structure of the southern outpost of Camelot, where the Kennedy family owned the estate known as the Winter White House for 62 years, was hardly altered by JFK’s affiliation.
Catholics were still outsiders in 1950’s Palm Beach when Kennedy courted the Ivy League Brahmins who ruled the island, said Leamer.
“He wanted to be in that world of the ultimate elites,” said Leamer. “Jack become more WASP than the WASPS.”
On the other hand, Trump didn’t care about acceptance from the Palm Beach elite.
Said Leamer, “He’s beaten them in every single way, even morally.”
So who wins the presidency at the end of Leamer’s version of events?
Consider the book’s title a clue.
READ LEAMER’S BOOK FOR FREE
*In an offer to Palm Beach Post readers, Laurence Leamer is making his book “The President’s Butler?” available to read for free for two days only. Use this Amazon link to download one: www.amazon.com/dp/b01lvxrnu9
*The link will be active only from 12:01 a.m. Sunday, September 18 until midnight on Monday, September 19.
*After that, the book will be available on Amazon and through Ingram books at Ingramcontent.com