Read: One thing about the 2020 election is already clear
Cold and gray, with MAGA beanies and cracked-open beers barely concealed in koozies, the scene around town looked more like a football Sunday than a January Tuesday. Subpoena Colada, MAGArita, Moscow Mueller, and the Sanders (“You buy the drink and we give it to someone who doesn’t have one!”) were a few of the “Trump Rally Drink Specials” on offer at the Blue Water Grille. Trump 2020 and Keep America Great banners peppered the restaurant, while Fox News’ coverage of the president’s impeachment trial occupied the mounted TVs. Cortland Heyniger Sr. and his son, Cortland Jr., posted up at the bar in matching camo Trump hats and flannel shirts. “The other side lies and tries to divide us,” said Heyniger Jr., an Asbury Park firefighter. “You can see it, you know?”
Janis Sweeney, a hair stylist from Winslow Township, celebrated her 60th birthday by coming to the rally. It was her first time seeing Trump in the flesh, her first political event at all. “I like his attitude,” said Sweeney, wearing a leopard-print coat and a pink Women for Trump button. “He’s a good guy; he’s sensitive.” She and her husband, Chuck, arrived a full day before the event, tagging each other in and out of the line outside the venue as the wind whipped off the icy Atlantic. Eighty-four-year-old Dorothy Cobb and her daughter pulled into Wildwood on Sunday. Cobb sat on the risers inside with a green knit blanket spread across her lap as she clutched a Keep America Great! sign. “A lot of people think he’s a bully. Well, we need a bully,” Cobb said. Like others I spoke with, she waved off former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s corroboration of a Trump quid pro quo with Ukraine and scoffed at the idea of impeachment as a whole. “There’s a lot of lying going on,” Cobb said.
Onstage, the president acknowledged that crashing a Northeast beach town in January didn’t make much immediate sense, then bragged that the event had broken attendance records for the venue. He gave a brief shout-out to former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, which was met with a mix of boos and applause. (Christie was on-site to hear it all.) He brought up South Jersey–bred Kellyanne Conway to talk about her love of both the president and her home state. Later, when running out of steam and with some attendees filtering out, Trump reminded the audience that New Jersey gave the world “American greats” such as Thomas Edison and Frank Sinatra. At one point, he spoke fondly of the “beautiful escalator” he rode down five years ago inside his namesake tower on the day he announced his candidacy for president, the same day he referred to Mexicans as rapists and criminals.
I asked Fernando Fernandez, the president of the Atlantic City Republican Club, about that particular xenophobic comment when we sat down at a table at the Blue Water Grille yesterday afternoon. Fernandez is a naturalized citizen who was born in Peru and whose parents are Democrats. “I have good friends that are Mexicans that are not rapists,” he said. “So the comment doesn’t really portray what [Trump’s] saying.” Later, Fernandez told me that he is a gay man and that his political affiliation is “a big turnoff” to many potential partners. “The Republican Party has welcomed me with open arms, 100 percent,” said Fernandez, wearing a red Trump 2020 visor with a mop of fake blond hair sewn into the top. “They knew who I was from the beginning. They might’ve raised an eyebrow like everybody else who doesn’t know me quite well, but after a couple months they’re like, ‘You’re welcome. You are a part of the Republicans.’”