Controversy surrounded President Trump’s visit to The Villages on Oct. 3 as protesters clashed outside the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center while inside the 1,000-seat venue he was labeling his Democratic foes as “maniacs” to a rousing round of applause.
In the No. 2 story of the year in The Villages, Trump spoke to the invitation-only crowd – vacant seats apparently were offered to the public at the last minute to fill the venue – about a variety of topics but his main reason for the visit was to sign an executive order to protect Medicare while also cutting waste from the program.
The event was attended by a who’s who of Villages management and actor Stephen Baldwin, who was speaking at a Villagers for Trump rally later that night. It was billed as an official White House visit, though it often sounded more like a campaign speech.
In addition to blasting his Democratic rivals and his then-impending impeachment hearings – Trump labeled them as “crap” – in the House of Representatives, the president touted Medicare Advantage plans, vowed to continue battling the opioid crisis and said efforts will move forward to strengthen and clean up Veterans Affairs so that quality healthcare is provided to military veterans.
Trump had flown into Ocala International Airport aboard Air Force One and then traveled to The Villages aboard his official helicopter, Marine One, which landed at The Villages Polo Fields. He called Florida’s Friendliest Hometown “a special place” but offered his thoughts on a way to improve the rally, which had been rescheduled from August after mass shootings rocked El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
“We could have had 25,000 people if we did it outside,” he said to a resounding roar from the crowd, which included Villages Developer Mark Morse; his sister, Villages Sales Director Jennifer Parr and Gary Lester, vice president of community relations – a group that originally had supported former Gov. Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in the 2016 GOP presidential campaign.
Meanwhile, outside The Sharon in Spanish Springs Town Square, supporters from both sides of the fence were squaring off. Passion was truly on display as Trump fans and foes at times became heated and required the intervention of law enforcement.
Opponents of the president were armed with whistles they blew loudly and repeatedly at those with whom they disagreed. The whistles were a nod to the whistleblower who reported on Trump’s phone call in which he was accused of attempting to gain dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden.
Shirley Riordan, who moved from Memphis to the Village of Collier five years ago, said she has never been as excited about a president as she is about Trump.
“I love what he has done for the country,” she said.
Barbara Scheer, of the Village of Virginia Trace, and Ed Brennan, of the Village of Mira Mesa, didn’t see it that way.
“We are going to be in real trouble if he isn’t defeated,” Scheer said.
Less than a week after the event, Village of Alhambra resident Peter Davidson filed a report with the Lady Lake Police Department as a result of an altercation involving an outside agitator. Davidson said he and other anti-Trump supporters had gathered near TooJay’s Gourmet Deli and were blowing whistles then a man approached the group and engaged several women “face to face verbally,” the report said.