Tragedies raise doubt about Trump’s visit

The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center in Spanish Springs will be the setting for President Donald Trump's visit to The Villages.

In light of two mass shootings within a 24-hour period that rocked the nation, speculation swirled Sunday that President Donald Trump may need to cancel his Tuesday visit to The Villages to discuss Medicare. Late Sunday, the White House could not confirm if there would be any change to the president’s current schedule. Trump does plan to make a statement Monday morning on the shootings, national media reported. The president has been speaking to the attorney general, FBI director and members of Congress about the two national tragedies in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in which collectively 29 were killed and about 50 injured.

In a brief statement before boarding Air Force One in New Jersey on Sunday, Trump denounced both shootings, saying “Hate has no place in our country.”

If the president does postpone his visit to The Villages it would not surprise Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political science professor. 

“If it changes, it would certainly be understandable,” Jewett said. 

The two mass shootings are “what he and the administration are concerned about right now — and that’s what most Americans are concerned about.”

Presidents often have to change their schedules at the last minute because of unexpected events, Jewett said.

“That’s the nature of being president,” he said. “When a crisis occurs or a national tragedy, the public expects the president to reassure the country.”

John Temple, Sumter County Republican Executive Committee chairman, also said he would not be surprised if the speculation about the president needing to postpone his Villages trip were true.

“All of our hearts go out to those who are suffering,” Temple said Sunday evening. “We would definitely understand if the president had to cancel. We would expect him to want to directly reach out toward those who are in this unfortunate tragedy.”

Tuesday’s White House schedule has Trump speaking to an invitation-only audience at the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center for the address on Medicare.

The Villages appears to be a perfect backdrop for that discussion as Sumter County, because of The Villages, is home to the highest percentage of Medicare beneficiaries in Florida, according to the latest data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. More than half, or around 69,000 residents in Sumter County, are Medicare beneficiaries.

But the discussion on Medicare was pushed out of the national focus this weekend.

In the Texas border city of El Paso, a gunman opened fire Saturday morning in a shopping area packed with thousands of people during the busy back-to-school season. The attack killed 20 and wounded more than two dozen, many of them critically.

Hours later in Ohio, a gunman wearing body armor and carrying extra magazines opened fire in a popular nightlife area in downtown Dayton, killing nine and injuring at least 26 people.

Jewett suggested Florida’s role as the country’s biggest swing state might increase the odds of the president postponing his Villages trip.

“It could look politically tone deaf for him to do other things, potentially things that smack of politicking,” Jewett said. “Medicare is about policy, and it’s an important issue too, but making an announcement on it in Florida, and in The Villages, is also about votes in a very competitive state.”

As for how long a postponement could turn out to be, Jewett said it can vary widely depending on the circumstances.

“They might try to reschedule it fairly quickly, but on the other hand it could take months. It’s just hard to say.”

But Jewett said he thinks it’s very unlikely that the trip ends up being canceled completely.

“The Villages is just too important,” he said.

Managing Editor Curt Hills can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5287, or curt.hills@thevillagesmedia.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.