SARASOTA, Florida — Thousands of professional progressive protesters are plotting to disrupt a town hall event for Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) here on Saturday morning, Breitbart News has learned, as part of a grander effort to grind down President Donald Trump and his America First agenda on the national stage.
Anti-Trump progressive organizers in the area are flooding social media with messages detailing their plans for disruption and even expressing the hope that President Trump dies soon. They openly state their goal is to halt the mandate the president has from his landslide electoral college win on Nov. 8, when he crushed Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton by winning 30-and-a-half states — cruising to a 306 vote electoral college victory.
The vitriolic nature of the progressive left’s desperate anti-Trump streak shines through in organizing messages in local Facebook posts, including one in which progressive activists say their “favorite” interaction with someone recently was a man who rolled down the window of his car while they were protesting and said he wished that President Trump was dead.
The local progressive Facebook group Indivisible Bradenton Pro-gressive wrote:
Our street protests were lively again, and we practiced our sign-waving skills with a lot of razzmatazz this week. Our signs reflected our concerns: ‘Did Trump Collude With Russia?’ ‘Trumpcare is Worse Than Obamacare,’ ‘GOP Bad Health Bill; 24,000,000 LOSE; Rich Get Tax Break,’ ’24 Million Will Lose Coverage Under Republican Plan,’ ‘Protect Our Care! Save the ACA,’ and ‘Sessions Must Resign.’ Our smaller group seemed to embolden the hecklers this week. We got several long profanity-laced tirades directed at us from both passing cars and people on the street. We just thanked them loudly or whooped in response for our own cheers. We’re enough of a regular fixture now on Tuesdays mornings that one woman who works in a nearby office asked if we are here because we are only allowed to protest on Tuesdays (?!). That made me realize all the more the importance of making our presence known and what people’s democratic rights truly allow them in this sleepy town. We of course got a lot of cheers and honks, as we always do, along with some thank yous. The favorite this week was an older gentleman who rolled down his window, spoke very slowly, and said: ‘We all need to pray very hard that Trump goes to heaven very soon.’
In other words, one of the “favorite” comments these progressive organizers heard all week was a man wishing that President Trump was dead and “goes to heaven very soon.” The original Facebook posting has since been removed and reposted with slightly different wording, where instead of the original description of that exchange with the man who wished President Trump was dead as the progressive organizer and post author’s “favorite” of the week, it was altered to say the exchange with that man was the “most notable oddity” of the week. Breitbart News has screenshots of the original, however, and is providing both the original post and the revised one here.
Both the original and revised postings also included details about the left-wing activists’ efforts to storm Buchanan’s town hall on Saturday, noting that a Buchanan staffer “received us kindly as always” when asked for details about the congressman’s upcoming town hall event.
“First, we sought more information about the format of Saturday’s town hall meeting,” the progressive group said in both posts. “She said that much of the time and format of the meeting was still being decided. So we don’t have anything new to report on that front.”
More than 4,000 people have RSVP’d for Buchanan’s Sarasota town hall on Saturday morning, Buchanan’s office and local Republicans tell Breitbart News, and they are expecting an onslaught of progressives who are not representative of the district’s electorate as a whole to attempt to dominate the discussion. If the RSVP numbers hold firm—or even come close to matching that whopping total—this town hall will be the biggest nationwide as of yet in a series of recent unruly town halls Republican members of Congress have faced since President Trump’s inauguration, and it has the potential to set the tone for whether the president will succeed in legislatively achieving his agenda moving forward.
Several deep ties between Sarasota’s political story and Trump’s national rise make this one of the most interesting events early in Trump’s administration. This particular congressman, Buchanan, has a personal story that’s eerily similar to President Trump’s rise to power: both were highly successful businessmen before running for office. What’s more, this district in many ways serves as a bellwether not just for Florida but perhaps for the nation as a whole. To top it off, the venue for the town hall—the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall here in Sarasota—is hallowed ground for President Trump.
Just weeks before Trump announced his presidential campaign, the Sarasota GOP awarded him its annual Statesman of the Year award in May 2015 in front of a sold-out crowd in the same hall. That award was bestowed upon Trump by Sarasota-area GOP powerbroker Joe Gruters, now a Florida statehouse representative. Gruters was vice chairman of the Florida GOP, and joined the Trump campaign early as a senior official. That made him the highest ranking Republican Party official in the state to back any candidate in the GOP primaries, drawing ire from allies of Trump opponents and state power players Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and former Gov. Jeb Bush.
“What you have here is Vern Buchanan and Donald Trump are very similar in that they’re business guys who want to get deals done,” Christian Ziegler — a state committeeman who also served as a delegate for Trump to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio last July and as a presidential elector for President Trump in the electoral college — told Breitbart News in a Friday afternoon interview. Ziegler said:
They know how to negotiate. They sit around a table and want to accomplish stuff. They really don’t understand why there’s gridlock in Washington—it makes no sense to them, because they’re used to their businesses, being the CEO and just executing. That’s why they’ve been successful, they’ve both made a lot of money, they’ve hired a lot of people—both of them—and they know how to manage, they know how to pick good executives, which is really important in government especially being president because he’s got to pick all the agency heads and all that stuff. They really know how to negotiate, that’s really all Washington is—one big negotiation on Capitol Hill—so I think that’s a big strength both of them share. And I think they’re both frustrated that nothing can get done in Washington and we’re not looking after the consumer, the voter. So I think they kind of both share that too. I think it’s interesting because I’ve gotten to know Vern and the governor, Rick Scott—we have a governor too, which is great, that’s what we need. We need more business guys to get in. Actually, I’ve never thought of it—our congressman, our governor and our president are all successful business people. At least for Sarasota County, we can claim all our people here are not career politicians and all three of them, their first political office is what they’re in now.
Sarasota offers national politicians, especially Republicans, access to a network of centrally located donors with deep pockets. But it also has the potential for big crowds, as Trump saw in his many trips to the area during the primaries and general election.
Before launching his own political career, Ziegler served for six years as a senior staffer to Buchanan. He made a nearly successful bid for the Florida GOP chairmanship against current chair and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) ally Blaise Ingoglia this year, coming up just short of toppling the establishment on his own. His wife serves on the local school board, something Ziegler noted offers him a unique window into understanding how the left operates from a local level — and how that professionally organized approach from progressive activists seeps from the ground level up to state and eventually all the way to national politics in an interconnected fashion. His wife, he said, regularly faces down progressive protesters targeting her on matters relevant to the national cultural debate, like transgender bathroom policies. Ziegler said:
When they come out to protest the school board, they have all these printed signs and all these groups that are bussing people in. But I think the same thing is happening with Trump. You look at all these different organizations. There’s people from outside the district—people from downtown Tampa that have no connection to our district, that are organizing all these counter protests around the state. They’re doing a fairly good job for their cause, but it’s definitely an organized, paid, apparatus if you will and effort. So I think we’ll see that tomorrow as well.
The orchestration from the hard left is nearly identical and linked together at every level, he added. He went on to say:
That is occurring and we’re seeing that on the ground in Florida statewide—my colleagues in the Republican Party of Florida as well, they’re reporting the same thing as well. It’s happening all around the state, especially over on the east coast. People who have never really gotten involved or have never been able to turn out a crowd, all of a sudden busses are coming in and people are showing up outside of Mar-a-Lago pretty upset. So, it’s an opportunity for the left to generate support whatever you think of Trump but I don’t think it’s truly representative of the average Floridian if you will. I think it is an orchestrated effort by professional protesters and professional activists. You look at something like the women’s march—that was something that was organized by these groups and then they just blend because they say ‘let’s march for women, let’s march against Trump.’
For now, it does not appear the left is making headway — at least not here in Sarasota or specifically with Buchanan. In a statement, Buchanan told Breitbart News he plans to work with President Trump to accomplish the things both of them campaigned on.
“I promised my constituents I would work to repeal Obamacare, reduce federal spending and protect Americans against terrorists,” Buchanan said. “I’m looking forward to working with President Trump’s administration to accomplish these important goals and shake up Washington’s broken political system.”
What the leftists plan to do here on Saturday is very clearly stated in literature progressive organizers have been distributing on social media: Grind down President Trump in any way possible, by any means necessary. They want to force Buchanan to take positions and answer questions he may not want to, and put him in a tough spot by pitting him against the president.
A document that the same aforementioned Facebook group has been circulating openly online clearly states the group’s agenda at this town hall:
The document reads:
The overall strategy at these Town Hall meetings is to use them as a media opportunity for our side. So the goal is to ask questions, and elicit responses from Congressman Buchanan, that will push him to take stances closer to what we would prefer, to demonstrate how Buchanan is ‘out of touch’ with his district when he stands with Trump’s agenda, and to show how Republican policies are hurting everyday Americans. Although things like the AHCA can potentially hurt millions, statistics can be hard to comprehend and sometimes make people’s eyes glaze over. But stories of individuals really bring things home and dramatize issues in powerful ways. So the most effective thing you can do is tailor any of the following questions with a short personal story about how proposed or enacted legislation negatively affects yourself, family, or friends. But don’t force it, either — a simple, straightforward question that is easy to understand is absolutely terrific, too.
The document then proceeds to detail a number of suggested questions designed to put Buchanan on the defensive, and to pit him against the Trump administration. They range from inquiries on matters like the House GOP Obamacare replacement plan, to the Russia hacking story, to Trump’s taxes, to the border wall, to the president’s recent executive orders on immigration suspending travel from a variety of countries, and more. The five-page document literally writes out the wording of dozens of suggested questions for those who would attend Buchanan’s town hall, and links to the national organization “Indivisible” which is helping organize the efforts to resist Trump’s mandate and agenda across the country.
The efforts to target Buchanan professionally — and this certainly seems like a professional political hit, not grassroots bottom-up organization by concerned constituents — do not appear to be an accident. Sarasota has always been a battleground county in Florida, though it shades to the Republicans slightly. Florida is a battleground state with 29 electoral votes and was crucial to Trump’s win in both the primaries and the general election. Most importantly, though, is that Trump far outperformed recent GOP presidential candidates in the Sarasota area — something Ziegler suggests may be a sign the left is worried they are losing ground here for the future and are desperate to regain lost territory. In 2008, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — then the GOP nominee — won Sarasota county over now-former President Barack Obama, but only by 237 votes. In 2012, then- GOP nominee Mitt Romney beat Obama by more than 15,000 votes here, but that still was not enough to win the state of Florida. Trump beat Clinton here by more than 26,000 votes, a much more substantial margin — something that helped him win statewide. Ziegler says that vote math has Democrats “scrambling” to regain relevancy. Ziegler said:
He [Trump] made a big statement and it’s not only [Sarasota County], it’s Florida as a whole. If you put yourself in the Democrats’ shoes, right, for the whole election they were told that Hillary is winning and this is her election to lose, right? There’s no way she’s losing it. Really, I think Democrats were really complacent and they just expected victory. What happened was was on election night you had Donald Trump and just like Florida that we’re in now right, he won these states that he wasn’t supposed to win and that he wasn’t expected to win and there’s no chance. The media said that, the left said that to their own allies. If you’re a Democrat, on election day you’re looking at the map and you see Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and you’re like ‘oh crap, what just happened to us?’ Now they’re fighting for relevance. So it’s almost like their last stand when you look at the Democratic Party. And they lose that historic election that they were expected to win, and I think now they’re scrambling. When you’re desperate, you scramble and you try every tactic you can and it energizes you. You throw Hail Mary’s, but it’s too bad so sad it’s a couple months late. But that’s what you’re seeing now. All that activity is being fueled by them being totally desperate and paranoid and freaking out that they could lose their relevance altogether.
Ziegler and other local Republicans are doing everything they can to get Trump voters to show up and back up the president and their GOP congressman — even running ads on social media promoting the town hall and blasting out invitations to email lists of Trump backers. And Trump’s silent majority army may just show up to support the president’s agenda in the face of the left — or they might not, as they have been active in other recent events, and Ziegler notes that the voters from the party that just won the election tend not to be as concerned as those who lost. But here in Sarasota on Saturday morning, it appears the first major outside-the-beltway battle over the Trump agenda will play itself out. If the right holds the line, and rallies around the president, the left may become further disillusioned. But if the left draws blood, expect more of this nationwide.