Wildwood rally shows Trump’s base has only grown louder and prouder since 2016

Wildwood rally shows Trump’s base has only grown louder and prouder since 2016
Wildwood rally shows Trump’s base has only grown louder and prouder since 2016

As former President Donald Trump stood on a stage in the sand in Wildwood, he spoke to a sea of ​​his fiercest fans gathered at the foot of Wildwood’s famous Great White roller coaster.

They poured onto the Wildwood beach hours earlier. Many came in pickup trucks decked out in Trump flags, with license plates from up and down the East Coast.

“The country is headed in the wrong direction,” said Kelly Carter-Currier, 62, a retired teacher from New Hampshire, who wore a “TRUMP” New Hampshire license plate around her neck. “So, hopefully, people will get their s— together and vote the right person in. And if they don’t, I don’t know. World War III?”

In an election that has been defined by disenchantment from a large portion of the electorate, Trump’s core supporters have remained a loud, proud, and seemingly immovable bloc, even as the former president faces felony indictments across four jurisdictions.

Unlike in 2016, when a large group of Trump voters backed him silently in the lead-up to his election, Trump’s most fervent supporters have spent the last eight years learning his playlists, listening to his one-liners, and attending rally after rally like followers of a rock band. And Trump played his greatest hits on Saturday in Wildwood, one of his larger rallies in a string of big events this year.

Trump, who narrowly leads Biden in most swing states, will need to expand his support beyond this bloc, but their passion for Trump presents a contrast with President Joe Biden, who has always engendered more subdued support and this year has to contend with an erosion of some Democratic constituencies, such as young voters.

‘We love Wildwood’

Trump delivered a predictable but also somewhat rambling, expletive-heavy campaign speech Saturday. He was on stage for roughly 90 minutes.

“I’ve been indicted more than the great Alphonse Capone,” he told the crowd (Capone was indicted at least six times compared to Trump’s four), before decrying the felony charges against him as “bulls—.” The crowd then began singing the word.

Trump’s rally came as he is still standing trial in Manhattan for allegedly falsifying business records in relation to hush money payments, the first of Trump’s criminal cases to go before a jury. He faces a total of 91 criminal charges in four different jurisdictions.

Trump said he loved Wildwood, understood the Shore more than most people, and predicted he would win New Jersey, which voted Democratic in the last seven presidential elections.

Trump spent the first portion of his remarks slamming Biden for inflation, listing off the increased cost of gasoline, hamburgers, hot dogs, and bacon — which got an especially loud boo. The economy is the main issue for most voters, polls show.

“If you want lower costs, higher income, and more weekends down at the Shore … you have to vote for a gentleman named Donald John Trump,” Trump told the crowd.

And he described Biden as a “crooked, incompetent president.”

The festival atmosphere of a Trump rally was on full display in Wildwood on Saturday. Digital signs in front of amusement park rides read: “Make America Great Again!” Hundreds of people set up camp overnight on the resort’s boardwalk and people waited for hours to get in by noon. Trump didn’t speak until close to 6 pm

A spokesperson for Wildwood had previously said capacity for the event would be about 20,000. Wildwood’s mayor, Ernie Troiano Jr., said the event could accommodate 40,000 and a speaker claimed that 80,000 were in attendance, an unconfirmed number.

Still, the crowd was far larger than the last time Trump came to Wildwood, in January 2020, for an event in the smaller convention center.

Trump has little chance of winning New Jersey in the fall, but the resort town is a red enclave in a blue state and also a popular vacation destination for Pennsylvanians, whose votes both candidates desperately need.

Trump made multiple references to the neighboring state, including when he falsely referred to the pro-Palestinian protests on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus as riots.

“I went to school in Pennsylvania,” Trump, a 1968 Wharton graduate, told supporters in Wildwood on Saturday. “They’re rioting in front of my school all the time. What’s going on here?”

There were no major incidents at Penn during the 16 days protesters occupied College Green on Penn’s Philadelphia campus. Police disbanded the encampment Friday morning, arresting 33 protesters – including nine Penn Students.

Trump also took aim at former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, one of his fiercest GOP critics. Trump described the former governor as a “fat pig,” among other insults.

Brash language was a theme on T-shirts sold on Wildwood’s boardwalk and throughout the crowd.

Two MAGA supporters draped in a black flag walked arm in arm toward Trump’s beachfront gathering with a sign reading: “I’m just glad to be on the side that believes in God, has the most guns, and knows which restroom to use.”

Other rallygoers wore shirts with misogynistic expletives describing Vice President Kamala Harris, or chiding those who use non-cisgender pronouns. People proudly held up pictures of Trump’s mug shot and wore T-shirts with anti-Biden messages as “America the Beautiful” played over the PA speaker.

Palota Taamu Tama Seu Pelu Tamaseupelu, a South Jersey resident who is originally from Hawaii, paraded around the beach draped in a Hawaiian flag and traditional island dress.

The Hawaiian wildfires that tore across his home island, Maui, didn’t just bring about tough times for his family members living there — the destruction reaffirmed his support for Trump.

“When he was in office, life was great, things were easy,” Tameseupelu said of Trump. “The economy was fantastic… but sincerely [Biden] got in office, what did he do? Nothing.”

John Truax, 71, a retired contractor from Philadelphia, said Trump’s “America First” message resonates with him.

“Ever since I was 18 years old, and I started voting, I always understood that a president is supposed to represent Americans, just like an attorney,” he said.

Suzanne Palady came to Wildwood from Bear, Del., what she calls Trump country, to find herself in another hotbed of fervent MAGA supporters. Retired after decades of owning a plumbing business, Palady said she’s ignoring Trump’s ongoing Manhattan hush money trial.

“Trump’s a businessman, I don’t care about what he does on the outside, in his personal business,” she said.

Veronica Umile, 19, stopped by the boardwalk before she was due at work to spend some time with fellow supporters. Umile attended Trump’s 2020 rally in Wildwood, too. The Gloucester County resident said that she knows people think Trump is “a bad guy,” but that she believes he was a “very good president.”

“Everybody could be bad people, but they could be good presidents,” she said. “It’s different. He ran the country like a business and I appreciated that.”

New Jersey Democrats pan Trump’s rally in the state

New Jersey Democrats dismissed the relevance of Trump’s support in the state ahead of the rally.

U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a Democrat who represents parts of North Jersey, said she expected a lot of people at the Wildwood rally to be from out of state.

“Jersey is not going to be a welcoming place for Trump,” she said in a press call with Biden’s campaign on Friday.

She said Trump’s “failed promises” across the country are “felt deeply here in Jersey,” such as his multiple casino bankruptcy filings in Atlantic City, which is 40 miles up the shore from Wildwood. The failed casinos left thousands of contractors unpaid and workers out of jobs.

U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, a Democrat running for Senate from New Jersey, said in an interview with The Inquirer’s editorial board that Democrats can do a better job of engaging with Trump voters and helping them get through disinformation. A general sense of apathy toward government has also helped Trump’s support grow since his background wasn’t in politics, Kim said.

“He will certainly come in with his bluster, but I hope people recognize that he is not somebody that has an agenda that’s going to lead to a better type of politics,” Kim said. “What people want right now is a steady hand at the wheel to try to help us navigate through these turbulent times.”

Staff writer Rob Tornoe contributed to this article.

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