The rally, held in the 7,000-capacity Wildwoods Convention Center, was the president’s fourth since the House voted to impeach him in December. The Senate has been mulling the two charges approved by the House on a party-line vote — obstruction of Congress and abuse of power — for the past week in a show of partisan fractures, impassioned pleas for unity and explosive revelations from Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton that could upend the White House’s core defense.
As in Congress, Trump’s support among Americans remains deeply partisan. According to a Morning Consult/POLITICO poll conducted just after senators were sworn in as jurors for the impeachment trial, a plurality of Americans said they supported Trump’s removal from office, with 47 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed. The divide was largely along partisan lines.
The rally came just hours after the president’s legal team wrapped up its impeachment arguments but as the debate continues on whether witnesses, including Bolton, will be questioned during the trial — a turn for Trump that could draw the process into unpredictable territory for weeks or months.
In the aftermath of the House impeachment vote, Trump has used his rally platforms to highlight what he says are his biggest achievements as president, including the killing of a top Iranian military commander and the leader of ISIS, as well as steady economic growth.
Tuesday was no exception, with Trump praising a “flawless strike that killed the world’s Number One terrorist,” Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force.
Trump also hit Democrats on the Green New Deal, saying it would force Americans to “close your factories, get rid of your cows.”
“You don’t have too many cows in Wildwood, but if you do, they’re gone,” he quipped.
And he spent a significant amount of time on health care, saying Republicans are “saving your health care while the Democrats are trying to take away your health care.”
But the president largely steered clear of attacking Democrats running to replace him this fall, a departure from recent rallies in which he has mocked many of them with personal insults. (He did take a couple of jabs at Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who has surged in recent polls.)
Trump’s rallies are also designed to support Republican candidates in a bid to retain control of the Senate and win back the House, and it was for this reason that he came to South Jersey to stand with Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a newly minted Republican.
“A few weeks ago, Jeff was one of the few brave and principled Democrat lawmakers who stood up to the House Democrats and the outrageous abuse of power you see going on right now,” the president said, alluding to his impeachment. “They can’t win an election, so they’re trying to steal an election.”
The 66-year-old Van Drew had a nearly 30-year career as a Democratic elected official before his party switch in December. During his 11 years in New Jersey’s state Senate, he was Democrats’ most conservative member, voting against gay marriage, against gun control measures, against increasing the minimum wage and in support of pulling the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
But Van Drew, who represented a Republican-leaning legislative district, never faced a serious primary challenge, and remained a key ally of powerful South Jersey Democratic leaders. Even in 2018, as a blue wave swept most of the state, Van Drew easily won the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary despite progressives’ complaints that they were steamrolled by party bosses.
Van Drew’s support among Democrats collapsed when he refused to support impeachment — something Democrats also blamed partly for the loss of Van Drew’s old state Senate seat in New Jersey’s 2019 legislative elections. Democratic Party bosses who hold huge sway in South Jersey politics abandoned him as internal polling painted a bleak picture.
Trump brought Van Drew up only 10 minutes into the Tuesday rally to help him kick off the night — time the president usually reserves to dish out whatever has been most occupying his mind. The congressman said that by appearing in his district, Trump “kept his word to ensure that the eyes of the world are on South Jersey and all of us.”
New Jersey is deeply Democratic, and has only trended more so in the Trump era. The state has nearly 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans, and its congressional delegation in 2018 went from seven Democrats and five Republicans to 11 Democrats and one Republican. (With Van Drew’s party switch, it now stands at 10-2).
But the 2nd District — which runs from the shore in the east to the Philadelphia suburbs in the west with farmland in between, and is more working-class than the anti-Trump districts farther north — is friendlier Trump territory. It’s also in the region of the state where Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who attended the event and briefly addressed the crowd, grew up.
The seaside resort town of Wildwood, usually dead quiet in January, saw a short boom from the rally.
Hotels were reportedly booked weeks in advance. Pro-Trump banners hung from the balconies of the town’s 1950s-era motels. Some attendees camped out 48 hours in advance to ensure a spot inside the convention center.
The convention center was packed to capacity, while Trump said “tens of thousands” of people watched from outside.
Although journalists in New Jersey closely reported on the rally and the crowds that formed ahead of it, Trump said the media typically ignores large turnout.
“They’re fake. They’re not honest,” Trump said. “So we have these massive crowds that fill up stadiums every single time. We have tens of thousands of people outside. They never mention it.”
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