Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene appear together at 'America First' rally in Florida

Controversial Republican lawmakers take mantle of Trump's populism during first stop on rally roadshow
Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene lock hands during 'America First' rally in Villages, May 7, 2021
Posted at 9:09 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 21:09:34-04

THE VILLAGES, Fla. — U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjory Taylor Greene, two of the Republican Party's most controversial figures, have kicked off their "America First" rally roadshow with a Donald Trump-centric revival of sorts at a Florida retirement community.

Friday's rally attempted to position the House members as successors to the former president's populism among the MAGA faithful.

"Tell me, who is your president?" Greene shouted after walking out onto a ballroom stage in front of hundreds of supporters wearing "Trump" T-shirts and "Make America Great Again" red ballcaps.

"Trump," the maskless crowd of retirees wearing MAGA red yelled back.

Joking that he was a "marked man in Congress ... but a Florida man," Gaetz called Trump "the undisputed leader of the Republican Party."

"Today, we send a strong message to the weak establishment in both parties: America First isn't going away. We are going on tour," Gaetz said. "It's no longer the red team against the blue team. It's the establishment against the rest of us."

Matt Gaetz pumps fist during 'America First' rally in Villages, May 7, 2021
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., cheers with attendees of a rally featuring himself and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Friday, May 7, 2021, in The Villages, Fla.

The indoor rally took place with just a week remaining until Gaetz associate Joel Greenberg faces a deadline to enter a plea deal that could lead to damaging information against the Florida congressman.

Gaetz alluded to the investigation by referencing what he called distorted descriptions of himself as someone who has wild parties with beautiful women.

What began as an inquiry into sex trafficking allegations and whether Gaetz paid women and an underage girl in exchange for sex has grown into a larger review of public corruption. Federal investigators are looking at whether Gaetz and his associates tried to secure government jobs for some of the women. They are also scrutinizing Gaetz's connections to the medical marijuana sector.

Greenberg, a former local tax collector, has been accused of trafficking a minor for sex and faces a May 15 deadline to strike a plea deal with prosecutors. If he does, Greenberg may be pressed to cooperate with federal investigators and deliver damaging information against Gaetz.

Greene, a congresswoman from Georgia, was stripped of her congressional assignments in February for incendiary social media posts expressing racist views, pushing absurd conspiracy theories and endorsing threats of violence against elected officials.

Marjorie Taylor Greene raises fist into air during 'America First' rally in Villages, May 7, 2021
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., cheers with attendees of a rally featuring herself and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Friday, May 7, 2021, in The Villages, Fla.

The controversies made no difference to the 300 supporters, mostly retirees, who packed into a hotel ballroom to listen them. A long line trailed outside the hotel with people who couldn't get in once the ballroom reached capacity. The Villages, which was the fastest growing U.S. metro area last year, has been a Republican bastion for decades and is often a must-stop destination for Republican presidential candidates.

Inside the ballroom, the supporters danced and clapped to Laura Branigan's "Gloria" and other 1980s hits and waved their arms, loudly chanting the lyrics of Queen's "We Are the Champions," before the politicians took the stage.