It’s not often that the phrase “and so I picked up the phone and called the President of the United States” comes up in casual conversation. Perhaps even more noteworthy is how casually those words surfaced from Chris Ruddy’s larynx, as if dialing up the leader of the free world was as commonplace an occurrence as encountering the flamingo exhibit at some local zoo. What stood out as no less noteworthy was his reaction once he realized what he had just admitted and his subsequent modest attempts at downplaying this revelation. From my exchanges with this successful business and media tycoon over the past few months, it’s clear his passions are the quest for intellect, knowledge and the expansion of horizons rather than the pursuit of wealth, power and the expansion of social connections. The Catholic centi-millionaire seems to find greater pleasure in engaging in deep philosophical discussions on the writings of the Rambam, whose works he’s been studying throughout his adult life, and waxing on about his strong affinity for Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson of Chabad-Lubavich, whose ohel he’s sure to visit anytime he’s confronted with a momentous personal dilemma, which were some of his futile attempts at rerouting the conversation away from his near-unrivaled access to the president that truly underscored his sincerity. At one point, when his wealth came up in conversation, Mr. Ruddy said: “I was born poor, I think I’m gonna die poor. I don’t need the money, but it’s nice to have it along the way.”
Riches, as Mr. Ruddy himself can tell you, are like ratings: they go up, they come down. And in the media mogul’s own case, the value of his net worth and ratings of his network tend to rise and fall in tandem. But as Mr. Ruddy demonstrates by the life he leads, it is one’s core principles that matter most. And when faced with the challenge, Mr. Ruddy was prepared to sacrifice so that he could remain true to his principles. The same adherence to values which has attracted tens of millions of admirers to his brand also earned him personal esteem in the eyes of more than one American president.
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It’s a beautiful day at the Beach Club, an exclusive restaurant overlooking two of the most breathtaking acres of private beach along the Atlantic. To access the Beach Club, which is located on Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, one must be either a member of the club or a guest of said member. If the initiation fee of $200,000 and annual costs of $15,000 weren’t hindrance enough, there’s a prolonged wait period before a new member is granted admittance, I’m told. But none of this would ever stop Mr. Ruddy, a longtime confidant of Mr. Trump and a Mar-a-Lago member for over a decade.
Getting onto the grounds involves getting onto the approved list, and the host member must corroborate your invitation. Then it’s a quick passage through a Secret Service checkpoint, who you can expect to maintain a presence and provide security for the resort throughout Donald Trump’s post presidency. Originally, I’d been informed, the former president had been scheduled to join us for lunch on the patio, but “a maintenance issue in the kitchen” required all guests to relocate to the veranda overlooking the beach while he dined somewhere deeper within the complex.
“I remember I met you at the White House Hanukkah Party, after the president’s speech,” says Mr. Ruddy, while we waited for our kosher meal to arrive. I’d reached out to a number of acquaintances who had spent time at Mar-a-Lago and none of them had any knowledge of a kosher option on the menu. Mr. Ruddy’s people, however, knew exactly how to arrange it.
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