Today, President Donald Trump is coming to The Villages. For the nation, it’s about Medicare. For The Villages, it’s history. Trump is coming this afternoon to The Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center to issue an executive order on Medicare. The Villages, home to thousands of Medicare recipients and a bastion of passionate — and mostly Republican — voters, provides an ideal backdrop for Trump. Big crowds are expected, even though the appearance at The Sharon is by invitation-only. Anticipation has been building since Trump first planned to visit The Villages in early August. Local law enforcement agencies are coordinating with the Secret Service to help with security and manage the throngs of people expected to show up. The Lady Lake Police Department and all three sheriff’s offices in the tri-county area will help with Trump’s arrival and departure. Preparation includes having all off-duty law enforcement officers available to assist, said Sgt. Paul Bloom, a public information officer for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. Bloom said the agency’s role will mostly be as support for whatever the Secret Service may need. The presidential visit is similar to other prominent politicians stumping in The Villages, but on a bigger scale and with more manpower required, said Lady Lake’s Deputy Chief Jason Brough. Those going to Spanish Springs today without an invite will be able to watch a live feed of the event on a jumbo screen.
Many in The Villages have said they would be thrilled to get even just a glimpse of Trump in person — such is the power of a presidential visit. This will be Trump’s first visit to The Villages, and the second time the community has hosted a sitting president.
More than 20,000 people packed Lake Sumter Landing in 2004 when President George W. Bush made a campaign stop.
Former state Rep. Hugh Gibson III, of the Village of Tall Trees, attended the rally.
“To me, that was the highlight of my political career and one of the highlights of my life, really,” Gibson said as The Villages prepared to host Trump in August before his visit was rescheduled. “Here I am just an old retired firefighter and I got to meet the president of the United States.”
Having a presidential visit signifies that a community is important, said Aubrey Jewett, political science professor at the University of Central Florida. It’s even more remarkable for a community the size of The Villages, he said.
“If you’re New York City or Miami or Orlando, there’s maybe a lot more things going on and there’s a lot more people,” Jewett said. “But if you’re a smaller community, this is, relatively speaking, a bigger deal.”
A presidential visit has unique appeal because it combines celebrity and history.
“For some these days, it is just a chance to put themselves in a selfie with the candidate or celebrity in the background and to be able to say they were there,” said Susan McManus, professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Florida.
Traditionally, Jewett said, people feel good about a visit regardless of the president’s party because of what the visit signifies for a community.
That was the case for Heidi Metz, who met then-President Bill Clinton in the early ’90s, when she was working as a community policing patrol officer in Michigan. Clinton was announcing their community was receiving a COPS — Community Oriented Policing — grant. After the presentation, Metz shook Clinton’s hand and had her photo taken with him. She said even though he is a Democrat and she’s a Republican, she appreciated that Clinton was pro-police and she was supportive of his COPS program.
“Any time you get to meet a president, it makes you proud to be an American,” the Village of Antrim Dells resident said.
While details of Trump’s announcement are unknown, his executive order is titled “Protecting Medicare from Socialist Destruction.”
Medicare promises to play a major role in the 2020 presidential election.
Many Democratic presidential hopefuls back “Medicare for all” and the elimination of private health care insurance. Other candidates have expressed views in favor of expanding Medicare to give individuals the option to buy into a public plan that would compete alongside private insurers.
Trump and other Republicans have been very critical of those ideas. They also have been advancing other health care initiatives focused on the prices of prescription drugs.
In June, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is scheduled to join Trump today, signed a bill in The Villages that would allow importing cheaper prescription drugs from Canada. The law is currently going through federal regulatory channels before final approval.
“I really don’t think we would have been able to get this done, or have a pathway to get this done, if not for the president’s willingness to do it,” DeSantis said at the time.
The next month, Florida’s Sen. Rick Scott joined in a bipartisan effort with Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, to sponsor Senate Bill 2387, which would “establish a process by which reasonable drug prices may be determined.”
Why The Villages?
Medicare is a critical issue for seniors in The Villages and elsewhere because the majority are locked into fixed incomes in a time when personal costs continue to grow, said Fred Briggs, president of The Villages Homeowners Advocates.
“So any time those of us on fixed income are saved from having major increases in our costs, we’re always going to be appreciative,” said Briggs, of the Haciendas of Mission Hills.
Sumter County had the highest percentage of Medicare beneficiaries in 2017 of all 67 Florida counties — 53%, or around 69,000 people, according to the latest data available from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
All of that makes The Villages a smart pick for Trump’s Medicare announcement, said McManus, especially if he surrounds himself with seniors during the presentation.
“It’s going to look more sincere for him talking about Medicare with a group of seniors rather than at a big rally that may include a different age demographic altogether,” she said. “In my judgment, it’s going to be critical for him to interact personally with seniors and not with just a huge crowd.”
The Villages is a Republican stronghold. In 2016, Trump won 69% of the votes in Sumter County. And Villagers are enthusiastic voters. Sumter ranked third in voter turnout among Florida counties in the presidential election. During last year’s gubernatorial election, Sumter’s turnout topped the list.
The community also lies on the edge of the I-4 corridor, the voter-heavy area along Interstate 4 that runs from Tampa through Orlando to Daytona Beach. It’s the most fought over — and least predictable — part of a state famous for its ability to decide who wins the presidency.
Alexandria Mansfield and Leah Schwarting contributed to this report.