THE VILLAGES, Fla. (CN) – President Donald Trump visited the country’s largest retirement community on Thursday to announce new Medicare proposals, one of his first public appearances since the House of Representatives began its impeachment inquiry.
Although billed as an official White House event to sign an executive order expanding Medicare Advantage, Trump’s appearance in The Villages, a massive age-restricted community in Florida, quickly turned into another campaign rally. Trump attacked the leading Democratic presidential candidates as “socialists” while also maligning the “fake news media” and the “Russian hoax.”
The nearly 1,000 senior citizens in attendance obliged him.
“As we gather this afternoon, Medicare is under threat,” he said to the invite-only crowd inside a performing arts center. “Almost every major Democrat in Washington is after a massive government takeover that would totally obliterate Medicare.”
Trump made only passing mention of the impeachment inquiry after talking about his Democratic challengers’ “Medicare for All” proposals.
“That’s why they are doing this impeachment crap because there is no fair way they can beat us,” he said. “They can’t win.”
The retirees cheered and chanted, “Four more years! Four more years!”
Trump chose the retirement community as a backdrop to sign an executive order strengthening the Medicare Advantage program, also known as Medicare Part C, which relies on private companies to administer health care plans.
Medicare Advantage plans must offer the same level of coverage as traditional Medicare, but may also provide additional benefits. Critics say enrollees have less choice of doctors, there is more red-tape for complicated procedures and the program is part of a larger strategy to privatize Medicare.
The executive order was originally titled “Protecting Medicare from Socialist Destruction” on the presidential calendar, but changed before the event to “Protecting and Improving Medicare for our Nation’s Seniors.” Still, Trump used the specter of socialism to reinforce his Medicare proposals.
“These people on the other side are crazy,” Trump said. “They want to take Medicare away and give you something worse. Look at Obamacare.”
He railed against “Democratic plans for socialized medicine” that would shut down hospitals and leave people waiting months for medical procedures and congratulated himself for helping “millions of seniors enjoy better lives in retirement.”
“I should be retiring with you,” he quipped.
This is Trump’s first visit to The Villages, a sprawling age-restricted community of 120,000 just north of Orlando. It represents one of the state’s largest Republican voting blocs.
Trump initially planned his visit for August, but canceled after the back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Before the president arrived, hundreds of supporters milled about in front of the Sharon L. Morse Performing Arts Center, located in a quaint town square lined with restaurants and shops. After arriving on golf carts emblazoned with American flags, they sat on benches and chairs near a large jumbotron monitor. A full SWAT team, complete with an armored truck, and several county sheriff deputies watched over the crowd.
Sitting on a bench within sight of the monitor, Clarence Depord read a flyer handed out by a Trump volunteer. Depord, 73, could not get a ticket to the event, but wanted to show his support anyway.
When asked what he hopes to hear from Trump, Depord replied, “I hope he’s going to put someone in jail. Pelosi, Schumer, all of them.”
Depord, who moved to The Villages eight years ago from Virginia, said he does not take the impeachment talk seriously.
“It’s all a hoax and it’s all there to distract the people,” he said.
Standing in front of the Amerikanos Grille restaurant, 76-year-old Mac Allister voiced a similar opinion.
“Every other president has talked with world leaders like that,” Allister said. “He’s making sure there is no crooked stuff going on there. They have nothing to impeach him for.”
Allister moved to The Villages 11 years ago from Maryland. He said the community is slowly turning more liberal as the population grows. The Villages is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country.
As if on cue, an anti-Trump protester strolls by holding a sign calling for impeachment.
“Look at that idiot,” Allister scoffs.
The protester walked to the farthest corner from the jumbotron where a couple dozen retirees held anti-Trump signs in the morning heat.
Sitting on two folding chairs, Linda Wright and Barbara O’Bryan wondered aloud why so many of their neighbors support the president.
“They are just blinded by Trump, I guess,” said O’Bryan.
“They are just blinded or they just watch Fox News,” added Wright.
Wright, who moved to The Villages from Massachusetts nine years ago, held a sign with Trump’s face superimposed on an orange with “Impeach” in black lettering.
“We are just appalled at what’s happening in this country,” she said. “We think [Trump] is corrupt. He’s completely unqualified to be our president.”
Living in this massive conservative retirement community is more difficult in the Trump age, they said.
“When you meet someone, you have to kind of do a little dance and see who they support,” Wright said. “Then when you find out they don’t support Trump, it’s such a relief.”