THE VILLAGES, Fla. (AP) — As retirees living on a fixed income, Paula Bedner and her husband don’t have a lot of money to spare.
But when Democratic House members announced last week they were carrying out an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, her husband, Don, went online to donate to Trump’s reelection campaign.
“My husband, that is not in his nature,” said Bedner, who lives in The Villages retirement community in Florida where on Thursday, Trump was making his first appearance outside Washington since Democrats ramped up their impeachment inquiry.
The latest allegations that Trump used his office to pressure Ukraine’s leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a political opponent here in the U.S. did not sway the Bedners, but rather the ramped-up efforts to investigate Trump have redoubled their support.
“In The Villages, if anything, it has gotten people more determined not to let them get away with it,” said Bedner, who is active in the local Republican women’s club. “People have had enough of this. They see the president is doing good things and the economy is going well.”
Referring to the nickname Trump has given official Washington, she said, “The swamp is fighting hard.”
Fellow Villages resident Dale Sutthoff said he wasn’t bothered by reports of Trump’s communication with Zelensky, in part because he felt Trump was looking into any interference in the 2016 election that may have stemmed from Ukraine.
“He’s doing nothing more than protecting us under the law,” Sutthoff said. “It’s just fine.”
Even though they didn’t get invitations to hear Trump, hundreds of The Villages residents congregated in a town square next to the theater where the president was speaking. Dressed in red “Make American Great Again” ball-caps and wearing “Trump-Pence” T-shirts, they sat in law chairs underneath a giant oak tree in the square filled with restaurants. Golf carts, the primary mode of transportation, had signs that read, “Trump Pence, Keep America Great, Victory 2020.”
Steve Pierson, who retired to The Villages from New York three years ago, was wearing a T-shirt that said, “Villagers for Trump,” a group he joined last year after they had a golf cart caravan that drove through the retirement community to show support for Trump before the congressional elections. He called the impeachment inquiry “political theater.”
“The Villages is overwhelmingly, wholeheartedly pro-Trump,” Pierson said.
In a corner of the town square farthest from the theater, in front of a deli, about 25 anti-Trump protesters gathered with “Impeach 45” and “No More Lies” signs. Some blew whistles to show support for the whistleblower whose report led to the impeachment inquiry. Others chanted “Lock him up!”
At one point, Trump supporters at a neighboring Greek restaurant started shouting at the anti-Trump protesters, who blew their whistles back at them. Other Trump supporters waved Trump flags in front of the protesters, and at several points deputies had to get between the two groups.
Chris Stanley, who leads the local Democratic club, said being a member of her party in The Villages isn’t easy. She has had her car and golf cart scratched when there were pro-Democratic bumper stickers on them and she says she gets harassed if she wears T-shirts supporting Democrats out in public.
“We’re harassed everywhere we go if they can tell we are Democrats,” she said. “I get rude comments. I get spit on.”
Peter Davidson, who at one point was lightly shoved by a Trump supporter while blowing a whistle in the supporter’s face Thursday, echoed those feelings, even though he’s unaffiliated.
“It’s tough to be a not-Trump supporter because you get harassment from everybody,” said Davidson, who retired from Rhode Island five years ago. “The bars, the softball fields, the golf courses, everywhere. If you aren’t a Trump supporter here, it’s mean stuff. They actually get mean.”
By MIKE SCHNEIDER Associated Press