It is hardly headline news when a New Yorker moves to Florida—tens of thousands of people make the migration every year. But when the US president, Donald Trump, a Republican, changes his official residence in the year before an election from the blue state that’s given him a chilly political reception to the hotly contested purple one he could yet clinch, it’s worth considering the timing of such a switch.
Trump in September officially registered as a Florida resident, confirming the move by tweet yesterday after the New York Times reported on it. The president says he’s leaving New York because it “can never be great again under the current leadership.”
Those close to him have long suggested he’d make the move—since the 2016 election revealed the extent of official hostility toward him in New York. The Manhattan district attorney is also demanding to see the president’s tax returns, so far unsuccessfully. A federal district court judge ruled in October that the president does not have to hand over his subpoenaed taxes because he’s exempt from criminal process while he holds the office.
Florida, with its numerous tax exemptions, is a much more attractive alternative. Trump’s ties to Florida are longstanding, and he spends much of his time away from the White House at Mar-a-Lago, his Palm Beach resort, which is not too far from his $44 million golf course by the county jail. There is no income or estate tax there, and no cap on its homestead exemption, which many states have.
A homestead exemption shields a home from some creditors after death or bankruptcy. It’s a slice of an estate that cannot be liquidated to pay debts. Many states cap the exemption but, as one Florida attorney pointed out on Twitter today, the state doesn’t limit it, meaning even a multimillion-dollar home could be completely guarded. That would benefit the president and his family.
Still, the timing of Trump’s move is notable politically as well. With just a year to win voters in “the swingiest swing state” of all, it makes sense to commit to residence now. Florida has 29 electoral college votes. So does New York. But the southern state is traditionally up for grabs, won by slim margins, and split almost evenly between registered Republicans and Democrats, while the northern one has normally voted Democrat and won’t likely be won over.
The commitment to Florida now is purely symbolic, given that Trump has property all over the place and currently resides in the White House. Voters aren’t immune to gestures, however, and some who are on the fence at this point may be moved by the official switch, which could benefit Trump when they cast their ballots next year. No one knows exactly how to win Florida, but every candidate is sure they need to.
Still, Trump can’t avoid trouble in New York with this move, and it won’t change the fact that state prosecutors are demanding to see and audit his taxes. “If people could escape New York charges simply by moving to Florida, there would be a lot of criminals walking around Miami Beach right now,” Duncan Levin, a lawyer specializing in money laundering and fraud cases, told AM New York.