Hours after his lawyers finished their impeachment defense, President Donald Trump rallied supporters in a packed Wildwoods Convention Center on Tuesday night, condemning Democrats whom he said are “obsessed with demented hoaxes.”
Trump after Wildwood rally: ‘We must devote everything we have toward victory in 2020’
Minutes after leaving Wildwoods Convention Center stage Tuesday, President Donald Trump tweeted photos from the rally, writing:
“If you want your children to inherit the blessings that generations of Americans have fought and died to secure—then we must devote everything we have toward victory in 2020. Only this way, can we save the America we love – and drain the Washington Swamp once and for all!”
Democrats are now the party of high taxes, high crime, open borders, late-term abortion, socialism, and blatant corruption. The Republican Party is the party of the American Worker, the American Family, and the American Dream! #TrumpRallyNJ#KAG2020pic.twitter.com/Kq5KFhQmgH
If you want your children to inherit the blessings that generations of Americans have fought and died to secure—then we must devote everything we have toward victory in 2020. Only this way, can we save the America we love – and drain the Washington Swamp once and for all! pic.twitter.com/5NeC0mFWfU
“He supports lower taxes, not bad," Trump said at the Wildwoods Convention Center. “He loves our military, he loves our vets and police. ... He loves your Second Amendment, which is under siege by the Democrats.”
“Jeff had the guts to defy the left-wing fanatics in his own party,” Trump said. “To stand tall in defense of our constitution, our freedom and democracy.”
Van Drew, who is hoping the rally in Wildwood will gin up support for him in the Republican primary in his South Jersey district, took to the podium and immediately returned Trump’s praise.
“When I was in the White House, with the President, he asked how he could help me," Van Drew said. “I asked if he could come down to South Jersey to have a rally. Without even hesitating, our president said yes and he is here. A man who kept his word to ensure that the eyes of the world are on South Jersey.”
Trump also declared Tuesday that while he is “creating jobs and killing terrorists,” while congressional Democrats are“obsessed with demented hoaxes.” Trump’s rally came just hours after his lawyers wrapped up their opening arguments in his impeachment trial.
“Which is worse,” Trump asked thousands of supporters crowded inside the convention center, “the impeachment hoax or the witch hunt from Russia?”
“Really the Democrat party is the socialist party, and maybe worse,” Trump said.
You can stream the rally here:
— Pranshu Verma, Andrew Seidman
7:15 PM - January 28, 2020
7:15 PM - 01/28/20
7:15 PM - January 28, 2020
Meanwhile, in Washington: Trump’s lawyers wrap up impeachment defense
President Donald Trump set to address thousands of supporters at a campaign rally down the Jersey Shore, just hours after his defense lawyers wrapped up their arguments in his impeachment trial. The rally offers Trump a respite from impeachment drama and damning reports what his former national security adviser might say if he testifies in the trial, The Inquirer’s Andrew Seidman, Pranshu Verma, and Amy Rosenberg write.
Inside the convention center, the energy is electric as rally-goers await Trump’s arrival. The seats are filled, the soundtrack is swinging from Guns N’ Roses to N’Sync, and the Presidential seal has just been placed on the podium.
An overflow crowd is watching the rally on a big screen at Fox Park, across the street from the convention center.
Tonight’s rally is located in South Jersey’s Second Congressional District, which is represented by Jeff Van Drew. Van Drew faced heat from Democrats after opposing Trump’s impeachment and switched parties in December to become a Republican. The rally marks a moment of uncertainty for both Trump and Van Drew.
Inside Wildwood rally, Trump surrogates call impeachment a ‘witch hunt’ as protesters gather outside
President Donald Trump has yet to take the stage here in Wildwood, but the crowd packed inside the Wildwoods Convention Center is already hearing a lot about Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Adam Schiff, and Sen. Chuck Schumer.
Each was booed as Trump surrogates lashed out at the president's foes and called the impeachment inquiry a witch hunt.
“Congressman Van Drew, welcome to the right side of history,” said State Sen. Mike Testa, co-chair of Trump’s campaign in New Jersey, referring to Van Drew’s decision to oppose impeachment and leave the Democratic Party.
Addressing the thousands gathered for the rally, Testa added: “Mr. President, welcome to Trump Country.”
“Jeff is going to win in November,” Richter said. “He stood with President Trump and voted against this impeachment farce. He knows how to deliver for South Jersey. He’s tough, he gets the job done.”
New Jersey Republican Party chairman Doug Steinhardt also took to the podium to welcome Trump and praise Van Drew. “There’s no secret handshake to get in,” Steinhardt said. “Congressman Van Drew wants to drain the swamp. That’s why he walked away from the Democrats and became a Republican.”
Meanwhile, near the Wildwood Boardwalk, one of Van Drew’s Democratic opponents, Amy Kennedy, and Martin Luther King III joined hundreds gathered to protest Trump.
The boardwalk is a completely different scene. Protesters gathered beneath while Trump supporters heckled from above. One man said, “I want to piss on your face,” to a woman with a sign. pic.twitter.com/g5l6bDvq3W
— Andrew Seidman, Pranshu Verma, Ellie Rushing, Amy Rosenberg
5:35 PM - January 28, 2020
5:35 PM - 01/28/20
5:35 PM - January 28, 2020
Photos: Crowds gather before a Trump rally at the Jersey Shore
Inquirer photographers Heather Khalifa, Monica Herndon, and Tom Gralish capture the crowd in Wildwood before the Trump rally:
— Oona Goodin-Smith
3:49 PM - January 28, 2020
3:49 PM - 01/28/20
3:49 PM - January 28, 2020
‘It’s like an Eagles tailgate.’ Trump supporters share beers, brotherhood before Wildwood rally
For many people who came down to the Shore, the Trump rally has been more of a social gathering than a political one. People crowded into nearby bars, sharing laughs, buying each other beers, and sporting matching MAGA hats.
“It’s like an Eagles tailgate,” said Rich Duranto, of Philadelphia, who was walking through the crowds in a bright green Eagles track suit wearing a Trump mask he bought from CVS two years ago.
“It’s fun, it’s an event,” he said. “I’ll definitely be back.”
He loves Trump for his ability to entertain. He said Trump lies sometimes, which bothers him. But usually, Duranto said, they’re “just little lies.”
“We all tell little lies. They all lie,” he said off politicians. “[Trump] is just the most entertaining liar.”
Jeff Bottari, 58, and Scott Wistar, 56, took off work early and drove from Landerberg, Pa. to witness their first rally.
“It’s like a brotherhood,” said Bottari. “We’re all in here buying each other beers.”
“It’s not divisive like people try to say,” Wistar said. The two friends have tickets to the event but said they didn’t want to wait in line and couldn’t arrive early enough. They wanted to come down to meet more Trump fans and show their support for a president who they said has been the “only candidate... that has delivered on all campaign promises.”
Donald and Melania Trump look-alike’s make their rounds, amping up bars full of supporters who’ve found the rally to be more of a social event than a political one. pic.twitter.com/m0ZbhQHP7I
With cowbells, posters, flags, and baby Trump balloons, the two sides are verbally sparring, shouting “lock him up” and “lock her up" — a reference to 2016 Trump supporters’ preferred chant about Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Protesters says love no hate makes America great. Trump fans says no more BS. And “Four more years”
“When I decided to run against Rep. Jeff Van Drew in New Jersey’s Second District, he was one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the House,” Republican Bob Patterson wrote. “Republicans attacked him as a socialist who leaned too far left for a district that supported President Trump by nearly 5 points in 2016. So imagine my surprise when Mr. Van Drew reinvented himself as a Republican last month.”
“Having the president fully endorse [Van Drew] and embrace him, it just doesn’t make sense for me to continue in this race,” Richter, a millionaire construction executive, said. “I have endorsed Jeff Van Drew and will support his re-election campaign."
Trucking for Trump, he gives the peace sign when he gets the bird
Rocky Granata has traveled the country in an RV decked out in pro-Trump flags, banners, and pro-Second Amendment signs for nearly four years.
“For the last 42 months,” he said, “all I do is Trump every day.”
The Brooklyn native returned to New Jersey, where he lived for 40 years, for Trump’s Wildwood rally on Tuesday. He sold merchandise like T-shirts, hats, and flags, which is how he supports his travels, to the thousands of Trump fanatics celebrating the president’s arrival.
Rocky Granata has driven this RV, covered in in pro-Trump flags and signs, for nearly four years. “For the last 42 months, all I do is Trump.” pic.twitter.com/Uidoow1exn
Granata had been a Democrat all his life and even supported Bernie Sanders leading into the 2016 election. Once Sanders was knocked out of the primaries, he started looking more closely into Trump’s ideas. While he wasn’t a fan of some of his rhetoric at first, he said that Trump’s economic stance is what sealed his support. He’s been traveling in the RV ever since.
He said the majority of feedback from people on the road is positive — passersby taking photos or shaking his hand.
“Sometimes they give you the bird,” he said, “but then I just give them the peace sign.”
— Ellie Rushing
2:58 PM - January 28, 2020
2:58 PM - 01/28/20
2:58 PM - January 28, 2020
Protesters and Trump fans face off
Ahead of the rally, protesters are set up in a parking lot off the Boardwalk and Trump fans are walking past and gawking at them.
An intercom announcement into the crowd instructed rally attendees who see protesters: “Do not touch or harm the protester.” The announcement said people should hold their sign “over their head and chant Trump Trump Trump,” and security would remove protester.
— Amy S. Rosenberg and Ellie Rushing
2:25 PM - January 28, 2020
2:25 PM - 01/28/20
2:25 PM - January 28, 2020
Trump supporters stand in line, but know they might not get in
Police said about 8,500 people will be let into the venue , a number that may have been reached by early morning. Still, the line continued swell, filling the chutes in the parking lot of the Convention Center and snaking out and around several blocks into the center of Wildwood. Southern Rock played on a loop.
Dawn Pappalardo of Brick, N.J., said she wasn’t willing to join the people who camped out overnight in the cold and took her chances near the middle of the line. She assessed her chances at “maybe.”
Phil Thompson of Bucks County is here in Wildwood with daughter Regina “for the memories.” They’re not going to bother getting in line at this point. pic.twitter.com/johrKTFgS2
At Kelly’s Cafe, a full-throated, Yuengling-fueled Trump pre-game was in session. Steve Patrick, 73, and Bob Keith, 71, said they’d come in from Cape May, but were content to join the festivities at Kelly’s and watch the rally on television: “We’re not going to try to get inside.”
Elsewhere, parking rates topped out at $40 a night as people fought for on-street parking with skills honed during Wildwood summers. Maryann Drosey sold specially made Trump Wildwood beach tags for $5 (Wildwood beaches are free, and do not require them), and pop up merchandise shops were on every street.
Democrats call out Van Drew over anti-Trump voicemail
Democrats say they’re bringing a reminder of Jeff Van Drew’s recent party switch to Wildwood: a billboard drawing attention to a voicemail in which he told a constituent, just weeks before he defected to the GOP, “I will not vote” for President Donald Trump.
"I haven’t voted for him, I didn’t support him, I will not vote for him,” Van Drew said of Trump in the Nov. 30 voicemail to a voter in his South Jersey district, which was obtained by The Inquirer on Friday.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, House Democrats’ political arm, said the billboard is meant to remind voters that Van Drew “is a fraud who is only loyal to himself.”
You can listen to the voicemail below:
Asked about the voicemail last week, Van Drew said: “I’ve pledged my support for the president in the Oval Office, on the floor of the House when I voted against impeachment, in South Jersey diners, and everywhere in between. My support for President Trump couldn’t be more clear — and he’ll hear it again from me in person on Tuesday night in Wildwood.”
Byron ousted former mayor Ernie Troiano, a Trump acolyte, but had welcomed the president to his town as a historic and meaningful event, one he planned to attend. He also suggested he might seek reimbursement from the Republican Party for rally expenses.
In a conversation with Van Drew, Byron said he was told he wouldn’t be welcome. Troiano was given a VIP ticket.
“I was not invited,” Byron said Tuesday, hours before the rally. “I’ve been informed that Congressmen Van Drew and the President are upset with the fact that I said I think the city should be reimbursed.”
Byron said he told Van Drew he had shown respect for the rally, and that “you should show the same respect to me as the Mayor of the City of Wildwood. It shouldn’t be about I’m a Democrat or Republican.”
Byron said he still thinks the city should be reimbursed.
“I have no way of knowing what these costs will be,” he said. “These rallies can be pretty expensive. There’s a lot of overtime.”
He said the rally has been an economic boost to the seaside town and has led to national exposure. Byron said he would watch the rally but wouldn’t seek any alternate way inside the Wildwood Convention Center.
"I"m the Mayor," he said. “Why should I have to sneak into an event in my hometown?” He said he was “very disappointed” in Van Drew, who he has known for years. “He’s still my Congressman and we need to have a relationship. The decision’s been made. This is his coming out party. You have a congressman and a president. Who else would he answer to?”
Earlier this month, after the rally was first announced, Byron said: “This isn’t about whether you’re Republican or Democrat. It isn’t even about the man. It’s about the position. ... Check your affiliation at the door, and let’s just all participate in this monumental [and] exciting time for Wildwood.”
But Tuesday morning, Kennedy went straight to the television heart of Trump world: Fox & Friends.
In a new ad aired Tuesday on Trump’s favorite show in Washington, D.C., Kennedy played the footage of Van Drew pledging his “undying support” to Trump in the Oval Office. Kennedy is then shown saying: "I’m a lifelong Democrat. That’s who I am and it’s who I’ve always been.”
Kennedy said in an interview she intended the D.C. airing to be “a shot across the bow” to Van Drew and Trump.
“We want them to know we’re here,” Kennedy said. “We’re paying close attention to the message they’re putting out to my district and my community.”
In addition to Fox & Friends, the ad is running on New Jersey cable, according to Kennedy’s campaign. She will also sponsor a mobile billboard at the rally site. It will feature an image of Van Drew and Trump with the label “Jeff Van Trump.”
Kennedy is sponsoring a community bus to Wildwood following a collection drive. She and other Democratic challengers to Van Drew will speak at a rally outside the Wildwoods Convention Center sponsored by Cape May County Indivisible, a group whose profile has risen dramatically as a result of Trump’s appearance and Van Drew’s party switch.
A moment of uncertainty for Trump and his new ally
The Inquirer’s Pranshu Verma, Jonathan Tamari, and Amy S. Rosenberg set the stage for today’s rally:
President Donald Trump will arrive at the New Jersey Shore on Tuesday for a campaign rally in Democrat-turned-Republican Jeff Van Drew’s district, at a moment of political uncertainty for both Trump and his new ally.
One is enduring only the third impeachment trial in U.S. history, a proceeding rocked Sunday by new revelations from a one-time ally. The other is still trying to find his footing in a new party. Both face challenging reelections in November.
On Sunday, Trump saw one of his key impeachment defenses undermined when the New York Times reported that his former national security adviser, John Bolton, wrote in an unpublished manuscript that Trump directly tied the withholding of military aid for Ukraine to whether the country aided in investigations of his political rivals. That increased the political pressure on Republicans to have Bolton testify in what has so far been a speedy impeachment trial free of witnesses or new evidence.
Just two days before that, the strength of Van Drew’s newfound loyalty to the president was called into question with the emergence of a voicemail he left for a voter. “I haven’t voted for him, I didn’t support him, I will not vote for him," Van Drew said of Trump in the Nov. 30 message, just three weeks before he defected to the GOP and pledged the president his “undying support."
All of it could make for an unpredictable Tuesday down the Shore.
The Inquirer’s Amy S. Rosenberg reports from Wildwood:
It felt like Senior Week, but for the MAGA crowd.
Instead of Wildwood’s iconic post-prom crowd of underage drinkers, it was the pre-rally crowd of Trump diehards, like Richard Snowden of Buffalo, who said he’d been to 63 previous Trump rallies.
Or Tony Grenada of Staten Island, New York City, who parked his traveling RV of Trump merchandise in the Walmart parking lot in nearby Rio Grande.
Motels hung Trump banners, and red-hatted Make America Great Again revelers filled local bars and waved from balconies. Others milled around nearby streets disparaging their local Democratic elected officials. Black SUVs with U.S. Government plates sped down the Garden State Parkway toward Wildwood.
More than one thousand Trump diehards began lining up outside the convention center early Monday morning, eager to ensure their entry into the small venue that will likely hit capacity at 7,500 people. By Monday evening, the line had wrapped around several blocks alongside motels that hung Trump banners.
Waiting line is wrapped around several blocks. Some speculation that there will be capacity reached by tonight. pic.twitter.com/ammxWLdR3T
“I’m going to work in the morning and then I’m going to go down, get in line and watch the rally,” local builder C.J. Scully. told Inquirer reporter Amy S. Rosenberg Monday evening. “Support our president. It’s exciting.”
The visit comes as Van Drew attempts to reinvent his political image to be more attractive to Republican primary voters in his district. One analyst said that the rally will finally “cement” Van Drew’s relationship with Trump, after Van Drew was one of the only House Democrats to vote against impeaching Trump last month.
President Donald Trump will host a campaign rally in Wildwood on Tuesday evening. Doors to the Wildwoods Convention Center open at 3 p.m. and Trump is expected to take the stage about 7 p.m. People may reserve up to two tickets at donaldjtrump.com, but entry to the event is first-come, first-serve. The venue will likely hit capacity at around 7,500 people.