Then Donald Trump was elected.
“When Trump won, it changed the whole ballgame for me,” McGinty told The Washington Post. “I thought to myself, ‘This was supposed to be a joke. What’s wrong with these people?’ ”
In the three years since then, the once-quiet political observer has transformed into the best-known Trump protester in The Villages, a sprawling, meticulously planned and maintained retirement community that lies about 45 miles northwest of Orlando. McGinty’s daily vigil with signs blasting the president as a “SEXUAL PREDATOR” (among other things) has drawn ire in the Trump-loving Florida town he has called home since 2016. It has also brought viral fame.
For his one-man protest against the president, McGinty has been berated as a baby killer and a “dumb a--,” decried in letters to the editor of a local news site and hit with an anonymous, handwritten threat — a sign that even a town that is described as Disney World for retirees and markets itself as “Florida’s Friendliest Hometown” is not immune to the divisiveness of this political era.
“There was always a divide, but we coexisted,” said Chris Stanley, president of The Villages Democratic Club. “There would be some good-natured back and forth, but your neighbors were your friends. You’d have dinner with the Republicans because it wasn’t a big deal. … These days, the division in the country shows up best in The Villages because now the Republicans, they won’t golf with you anymore, or you don’t want to golf with them.”
The 120,000-person enclave is a Trump stronghold in a county the president carried by nearly 70 percent, where Republicans outnumber Democrats two to one and golf carts — the main mode of transportation — are adorned with Trump bumper stickers. A regular stop for GOP politicians and hopefuls, it is Republican to its roots, created by billionaire conservative developer H. Gary Morse, who donated millions of dollars to the party’s candidates and committees before his death in 2014.
Even employees of The Villages have been pressured to support the Republican cause, according to Politico Magazine, which noted in a 2018 feature on the community that the development firm encouraged them to donate to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign to show that “The Villages family is ‘all in.’ ”
Jerry Prince, president of The Villages Republican Club, disputed the notion that the town has become highly politicized as a result of Trump’s rise, saying that most political disagreements are benign and short-lived. He supports the president but has maintained friendships with people who do not.
“There’s radicals on both sides, okay,” he said. “And I’ve heard of people wearing a Trump hat and somebody berates them, and I’ve seen the Republican side berate people to the left down here. They would have done that if they were in New York, or wherever the hell they came from.”
In McGinty’s telling, however, merely wearing an Elizabeth Warren hat cost him the friendly relationship he shared with a neighbor who used to give treats to his dogs. The man demanded he stop wearing the Warren hat — “and that was what really began my quest,” McGinty said. He called it “the defining day of my life as far as protesting.”
Soon after that encounter, he added the first of many anti-Trump signs to his golf cart, which previously was decorated only with stickers bearing the Penn State logo and his and his wife’s names. He rode around undeterred and even amused by the response: People shouting obscenities and giving him the finger, along with the occasional thumbs-up.
These days, McGinty devotes about two hours a day to protesting, crashing rallies planned by the Villagers for Trump group and parking his golf cart in well-trafficked areas where people are most likely to see his signs: “TRUMP BIGOT AND RACIST,” “TRUMP IS A SEXUAL PREDATOR” and “TRUMP COMPULSIVE LIAR.” He said he rotates between about 30 posters carrying various anti-Trump sentiments. He sits in his cart reading while he puts them on display, enjoying the confrontations that follow.
His critics call it deranged. Stanley calls it “something that’s coming from his soul.”
McGinty said he watched Trump’s career in New York and was appalled by his tabloid-fodder infidelity. During the 2016 election, he was angered anew by the then-candidate’s mocking of a disabled reporter, which was personal, McGinty said, because he has a sister with a disability.
He thinks Trump is immoral and unqualified, and he is frustrated by his community’s vehement support for him.
“These people down here are emboldened because there’s so many of them,” McGinty said. “And they really try to intimidate any Democrat that even sticks his head above water.”
His chief adversary — Villagers for Trump, which hosts frequent sign wavings and turns out for visits from MAGA stars including George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone, both convicted in the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference — did not respond to The Post’s request for comment.
But Stanley, the Democratic club president, agreed that opposition to Democrats has become more forceful. She said her 800-member group has always had to rent office space outside of The Villages, unable to get a lease in town. But now the partisan divide has gotten “ugly,” she said, pointing to video of a man pulling down an anti-Trump protester who had climbed onto a bench during a rally for the president’s October visit to the town.
She’s started new golf and dinner clubs for Democrats whose previous social circles were casualties of the 2016 election.
“If the rest of the country is as ugly as it is here,” Stanley said, “that’s terrifying.”
Tension over McGinty’s protest hit new heights last week, when he found a threatening letter on his front door. “BE VERY CAREFUL IF THE WELL BEING OF YOUR FAMILY IS OF IMPORTANCE,” it read. The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office took a report on the “vague threat,” noting that “Mr. McGinty advised he had no idea who had composed the note, but thought it was due to his political views.”
Days later, video of an exchange between McGinty and a woman who said she would “defend Trump until the day I die” went viral on Twitter, earning him notice outside of the Villages bubble.
The argument started when the woman, identified by Villages-News.com as Marsha Hill, approached McGinty with a camera rolling and asked him why he thought Trump was a sexual predator. An incredulous McGinty said the president had “admitted it,” citing the infamous hot-microphone conversation in which he bragged about groping women.
“Do you live in a cave, lady?” he asked, closing the book he’d been reading: “A Very Stable Genius,” by Post reporters Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig.
There were honks and name-calling. Hill announced that she was going to send the video to Trump and his son, Donald Trump Jr. McGinty responded, “Good. And tell Donald Trump to come down here. I want to punch him right in the nose.”
“This guy should be arrested,” Hill told Villages-News.com, accusing McGinty of blasphemy. “You can’t say that about the president with no proof.”
But when she posted footage of the confrontation on Twitter, tagging conservative radio commentator and failed Florida congressional candidate Dan Bongino, people ridiculed her and rallied around McGinty.
“THIS GUY IS AN AMERICAN HERO!!” said one representative tweet. Hill briefly locked her Twitter account (bio: “Trumpateer. MAGA2020”), writing in a tweet that “Twitter liberals are the meanest” and that she had been harassed.
In letters to the editor of the local news site, one of McGinty’s neighbors suggested that he was “suffering from a devastating case of Trump Derangement Syndrome” and called his new Twitter fans “lemming Trump haters.” Another noted that his speech is protected by the Constitution, “besides the fact that I whole heartedly agree with him.” A third said the “rabid fans of Trump have made living in The Villages intolerable,” while a fourth brought up Hillary Clinton, imagining a “disastrous future” if she had been elected and brought “her rapist husband back into the White House.”
Prince, of the Republican club, told The Post he wasn’t familiar with McGinty, and doesn’t get agitated by protesters anyway.
“The thing I say is, ‘This is America and you can think what you want,’ ” he said.
For his part, McGinty was back in his golf cart this week with his “TRUMP COMPULSIVE LIAR” sign. During an hour-long phone interview with a Post reporter on Wednesday, he was approached by a man who hurled an insult not fit for print (McGinty responded in kind) and by a woman who called him “my hero.” He handed her the phone.
“I had to come over and shake his hand,” she said, declining to give her name. “I just admire him for being so courageous.”
It was just another day in the lonesome stand against Trump: Angry opposition, quiet praise and McGinty in the middle, reveling in it all. His wife worries, his neighbors think he’s crazy and some of his friendships have suffered.
But he said he has no intention of stopping: His newfound activism is one of the things he’s most proud of in his life.
“I’m proud that I’m standing up for what’s right,” he said. “There’s never been a doubt in my mind that what I’m doing is right.”