“I don’t mind at all,” she told me, smiling. “He makes fun of handicapped people, he makes fun of everyone. I’m not offended.”
She went on. “You have to laugh. I am handicapped! If people can’t laugh about something, and have compassion, they shouldn’t be here.”
Korneff wasn’t the only supporter willing to laugh with, and warmly forgive, the presumptive Republican nominee for president. At the National Guard Armory in Lawrenceville, an exurb halfway between Princeton and Trenton, supporter after supporter seemed to recognize Donald Trump’s flaws and endorse him nonetheless.
He, in turn, endorsed them back.
“I tell you what, if you can make it in New Jersey, you can do just about anything you want in life,” Trump told a crowd of hundreds on Thursday evening, distorting the Frank Sinatra lyric in several important ways. “There’s nowhere like New Jersey,” he said. “Great people.”
They had officially come to raise money for Governor Chris Christie, a one-time rival to Trump and his ally since February. But they had really come for Trump. They paid dearly for the privilege of attending the nominee’s first ticketed rally ($200 for adults, $25 for students), and some of them paid even more dearly later that night, at his first fundraising dinner ($20,000 per seat).
And Trump was right about one thing—there is nowhere like New Jersey, and no one quite like its people. The roughly 700 supporters who assembled in the armory, tottering on its cement floors and swaying beneath its chandeliers and tile ceiling, came in a variety of apparel. Leopard-print heels, frilly black-lace hats, and liberally spackled blush intermixed with camouflage sweatshirts, American flag-embroidered shorts, Trump National Golf Club jackets, and Make America Great Again caps.
Plenty of jeans and button-down shirts too, which is what I was wearing. I’m a New Jerseyan—born and bred in the only state that Americans, on average, dislike—and when I heard that the Donald was speaking 10 minutes from my childhood home, I had to go. New Jersey is a small town, says my grandmother. These are my people—how would they respond to the agitator from up north?
One of them turned out to be my neighbor. Nick, a 17-year-old from nearby Pennington, is the son of the pharmacist who for many years filled my asthma prescription. His brother had been in my Boy Scout troop. Nick was wearing a shirt that said The H in Benghazi is Silent—the H was Clinton’s campaign logo.
“A lot of my friends ask, do I even know where Benghazi is,” he said. “Yes, I do. It’s in Libya.”
I asked him what he thought of Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. He winced. “I think something should be done,” he said. “I don’t know about everyone. That’s a little much.”
In fact, I could find no supporter who wanted to endorse Trump’s ban outright. Mike Mulligan, a Republican committeeman in southern Salem County, said he thought immigrants should be vetted before coming in and that the U.S. should only admit “achievers.” If that especially applied to Muslims? Well, that was fine.