Details were scarce Tuesday about President Trump’s planned trip to The Villages next month.
In fact, the announcement of his Aug. 6 visit took many local Republican leaders by surprise. And representatives from the offices of Gov. Ron DeSantis and Sen. Marco Rubio apparently also were in dark, as they were making calls to area leaders Tuesday morning in an attempt to get more information.
Speculation has it that the event will be a private, invitation-only affair, where the president is scheduled to talk about Medicare in a community of 125,000-plus seniors – many of whom are huge supporters and are clamoring for the opportunity to see him.
“I think it’s wonderful that he’ll be addressing that topic in this community where we have so many seniors,” said Villager Art Donnelly, a director with the fast-growing Villagers for Trump group that now boasts more than 1,700 members and clearly has become the choice of Republicans who want to get involved in politics.
Of course, the big question on the minds of many Villagers on Tuesday was whether they’d even have a chance to see the president when he stops in Florida’s Friendliest Hometown. All indications so far unfortunately point to the answer being no – unless they know the right people and have a fat checkbook.
Past history in The Villages would indicate that Trump’s visit very well could be a fundraiser involving the community’s owners, the Morse family – even though they were supporters of former Gov. Jeb Bush and Rubio early on in the 2016 presidential race and were vehemently against a Trump presidency.
Monday’s cryptic announcement that was short on detail and long on mystery brought back memories for many residents of the days when late Villages Developer H. Gary Morse was heavily entrenched in GOP politics. Known as a huge backer of President George W. Bush – he was on a first-name basis with the Bush family – he held the status of “Ranger” on the former president’s re-election donor list, meaning he had rounded up at least $200,000 in contributions.
In the days of the Bush administration, Morse wielded huge power in GOP politics and even held a coveted seat on the Electoral College. He engineered a 2004 visit by Bush to The Villages just days before the November 2004 election. And he was an equally big supporter of the president’s brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, who was a frequent visitor to the community, sometimes under the cloak of secrecy.
Many wonder if the Aug. 6 visit really is a fundraiser that will mark the Morse family’s foray back into national politics. If that’s the case and the event is held in their gated compound off County Road 466, the chances for everyday Villages residents to see the president won’t exist.
Private events have been held at their compound frequently in past years. Gov. Bush was believed to be there several times when he was running for re-election. Former Gov. Rick Scott – another politician the Morse family didn’t support from the start but switched their allegiance once he defeated their candidate, Bill McCollum – was the beneficiary of a private fundraiser there, as was U.S. Senate candidate Mel Martinez.
Shortly after 60,000 Villagers and area residents attended a rally at Lake Sumter Landing in September 2008 for then-Vice Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, Morse held a private fundraiser at his home in the compound for the Republican National Committee, where many Villages department heads and prominent residents were providing checks to support the cause and Gov. Bush was shaking hands.
Of course, Villagers also are aware that a slew of GOP presidential candidates have made multiple stops in The Villages over the years. After President Bush completed his second term, Morse threw his support behind Mitt Romney, who made multiple stops here. During one visit, the former Massachusetts governor had an old RV labeled as “The Mitt Mobile” towed into Lake Sumter Landing after it broke down on the campaign trail. During another stop, he led residents in singing “America the Beautiful.” And after each visit he would spend time with Morse, his family and The Villages brass and leave with plenty of campaign contribution checks.
If that’s what happens with Trump’s visit, then many Villagers probably won’t even realize he was in town. Given that he received 68 percent of the vote in Sumter County, some would consider it odd that a president who truly loves the spotlight would come here and not spend time with residents or members of Villagers for Trump who are constantly holding flag-waving events and golf cart rallies to show their support for him.
Coincidentally, Villagers for Trump has a meeting scheduled on the same day the presidents will be in The Villages, though they aren’t expecting to see him. But they know that Trump is aware of them, largely because they’ve been pursuing a visit and the group’s vice president, Jim Volpe, met with the president in November at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach and gave him a copy of the program from the club’s October 2018 Trump Day Dinner.
David Gee, who founded Villagers for Trump and serves as the group’s president, was one of the many taken by surprise by the announcement of the visit. He said the group had been attempting to get Trump or a member of his team to attend this year’s Trump Day Dinner on Oct. 3.
“We believe this at least put The Villages back on his radar, and hopefully our efforts, which I believe he is aware of,” he said Tuesday.
Gee said he sees the visit as Trump taking charge and telling his people to make it happen. And he said he spoke to a many people Tuesday who want desperately to see him when he’s here.
“My emails, texts and calls have gone off the chart in the last few hours,” Gee said. “I am hearing from people that I have not heard from since grade school who want these invitation-only tickets, that from all indications will be a small venue and not a lot of seats.”
Gee said he also sees the visit as the president offering thanks for the level of support he’s received from Villagers rather than a rally.
“He is under a lot of attack and we stand with him as a large group that is growing,” Gee said.