Politico's Michael Grunwald lays out the GOP's biggest weapon in the 2018 midterms: Boomer retirees who absolutely have time on their hands to vote, and overwhelmingly they vote Republican. Unless Democrats can get the kind of midterm turnout to counter them, the Blue Wave could crash on the rocks.
The Villages is America’s largest retirement community, a carefully planned, meticulously groomed dreamscape of gated subdivisions, wall-to-wall golf courses, adult-only pools and old-fashioned town squares. It’s advertised as “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown,” and it’s supposed to evoke a bygone era of traditional values when Americans knew their neighbors, respected their elders and followed the rules. It has the highest concentration of military veterans of any metropolitan area without a military base. It has strict regulations enforcing the uniformity of homes (no second stories, no bright colors, no modern flourishes) as well as the people living in them (no families with children, except to visit). And it is Trump country, a reliably Republican, vocally patriotic, almost entirely white enclave that gave the president nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Older voters are America’s most reliable voters, which is why baby-boomer boomtowns like The Villages represent the most significant threat to a potential Democratic wave in Florida in 2018—and the most significant source of Republican optimism for many years to come. Because while the Villages may look like the past, with its retro architecture and gray-haired demographics, it sells like the future. This master-planned paradise an hour northwest of Disney World has been the fastest-growing metro area in the entire United States in four of the last five years. And as the baby boom generation continues to retire, The Villages is continuing to expand into nearby cattle pastures, luring more pensioners to this fantasyland in the sunshine, gradually swinging America’s largest swing state to the right.
The Trump supporters who get the most media attention tend to be economically anxious laborers in economically depressed factory towns. But in Florida, economically secure retirement meccas like the Villages are the real reason Trump won in 2016—and why the state’s Republicans, who have controlled Tallahassee for two decades, think they can avoid a blue wave in 2018 and help re-elect Trump in 2020. For all the hype about Puerto Ricans moving to the Sunshine State after Hurricane Maria, or high school students like the Parkland gun control activists turning 18 and registering to vote, any Democratic surge could be offset by the migration of Republican-leaning seniors who like Florida’s balmy weather and lack of income tax. If midterm elections typically play out as judgments on the presidency, then Florida’s upcoming contests will be a race between the usual laws of political gravity and the state’s demographic destiny: Trump remains unpopular with younger voters, and Democrats have already flipped four Florida legislative seats in low-profile special elections this year, but the older voters who are most likely to vote in midterms are increasingly likely to move to Florida and support the president.
It makes sense that they’re coming to The Villages, because this leisure-class Sun Belt oasis is a lot more pleasant than the dying working-class Rust Belt towns that journalists usually visit on Trump-voter safaris. It feels like a 40-square-mile cruise ship, or a college campus without required classes. It has enough golf courses to play a different one every week of the year, and more than 100 miles of golf cart trails that keep traffic congestion to a minimum. It’s the pickleball capital of America, appropriate considering that badminton-meets-tennis-ish paddle game has become America’s fastest-growing sport. It has 3,000 clubs that keep 125,000 Villagers busy doing everything from belly dancing to astrology, water aerobics to water skiing, karaoke to quilting. It isn’t exactly luxurious, but it’s comfortable, with a median home price above $250,000; though a new POLITICO/AARP poll finds plenty of concern elsewhere in Florida , the only real economic anxiety for most Villagers is the state of their investment portfolios, which are thriving in the Trump era. At a meeting of the Financial Markets and Investment Club in early June, a speaker announced: “NASDAQ just closed at a record high!”
That meant more wealth for club members like 80-year-old Larry Harman, a former Chicago-area stockbroker who watches the markets so closely he founded a separate club devoted to options trading. But while Harman voted for Trump, and gladly would again, his investment gains are not the reason: “I keep telling people: Come on, Trump has nothing to do with your portfolio.” Harman, a former Marine, is much more excited about Trump’s crusade against the National Football League. “Players taking a knee, that’s bullshit!” Harman told me. “I’m with the president 100 percent: Throw your hand over your heart and respect our flag.”
It’s not a coincidence that The Villages supports the nation’s largest American Legion post—or that signs in its bar declare: “NO NFL GAMES ON POST TELEVISIONS.” Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 2:1 here, and in interviews, they generally expressed support for Trump’s tax cuts, as well as his hands-off approach to Medicare and Social Security. That has helped blunt the perennial Democratic pitch to seniors: Choose us, because Republicans are coming for your checks. But what really attracted them to Trump were issues that had little to do with their pocketbooks or their daily lives—like his opposition to sanctuary cities, or his insistent rhetoric about strength, or his attacks on Muslims, MS-13 and defiant black athletes. They feel like Trump is on their side in a cultural war against cop-haters, scheming foreigners, global warming alarmists, and other politically correct avatars of disorder and decline; they thought President Barack Obama was on the other side, standing with transgender activists, welfare freeloaders and Islamic terrorists. And when Trump vows to make America great again, they sense that he means more like The Villages.
“They want an America that’s a little more like it was when they were growing up, and that’s what Trump is offering,” says Daniel Webster, the area’s conservative Republican congressman. Dennis Baxley, the area’s equally conservative Republican state senator, points out that The Villages offers that, too, with safe streets, light traffic, artificial lakes that provide a real sense of serenity, and hundreds of support groups for every imaginable malady or hardship. It’s a throwback to when they were children in 1950s America, without actual children.
“It really is like living in a village, where there’s law and order, and people take care of each other,” says Baxley, who owns three funeral homes in The Villages. “Trump tapped into that sense that the rest of America isn’t like that anymore, that some people don’t have to follow the rules.”
Trump is definitely one of them. They love him for it, and they'll vote GOP for the rest of their lives. More importantly, they show up to register and vote where Gen X and especially Millennials don't bother, so these are the voters that control our politics and our country. They'll continue to control elections, especially midterms, for the next couple of decades, the living embodiment of the "I'm spending my kids' inheritance" bumper-sticker Boomer assholes who figure they earned it, and that they can't take it with them.
They elected the GOP, they elected Trump, and they'll damn sure be at the polls in November 2018.
Will the rest of us be ready to stop them?