Outside the confines of his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, President Donald Trump isn’t exactly vacationing in friendly territory.
It’s not just the organized protest motorcades around the club, or the nearby cornfield where the word “RESIST” has been cut in 70-foot letters, along with the female sign, visible from the air.
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Aside from Gov. Chris Christie’s warm welcome, the president is getting a chilly reception from the state’s political class, which is greeting his presence in New Jersey with a shrug — or worse.
“It’s not like he’s really here. He’s not going to walk down Main Street and buy an ice cream cone,” said Democratic state Sen. Richard Codey, who served 18 months as governor. “Perhaps he might see Christie there.”
Trump’s approval rating in New Jersey was at an anemic 28 percent in a June poll. Trump lost the state — which a Republican presidential candidate hasn’t carried since 1988 — by 13 points. Even tony, traditionally Republican Somerset County, home to Trump’s golf club, went for Hillary Clinton by a 20,000 vote plurality (Trump won Bedminster by just 8 votes).
The president’s standing is such that some local Republicans seem to be hoping Trump keeps a low profile. The campaign of Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who’s running for governor in the November election, didn’t respond to two phone calls seeking comment on how she felt about the president vacationing in her home state.
“I don’t have really a feeling one way or the other about it,” said Assembly Republican leader Jon Bramnick, who harbors ambitions for higher office.
It’s a stark contrast to President Barack Obama’s first term, when Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine — seeking reelection — held two public rallies in front of thousands with Obama (Corzine wound up losing to Christie).
There has been some controversy about Trump’s visits to Bedminster, though it’s largely been practical.
Early on, local officials fretted about increased costs for their local public safety agencies, but that was largely allayed by Trump’s golf club qualifying as a “residence of the president,” making Bedminster eligible for federal funds to cover its costs.
The tight security has local airports and their associated businesses complaining that the extensive no-fly zone around Trump’s golf course is hurting their bottom lines.
“I was the person responsible, at least in part, for making sure that Bedminster was included as a place that was covered for reimbursement from the federal government for the expenses of local law enforcement,” said GOP Rep. Leonard Lance, whose district includes Bedminster. “I’ve written federal authorities, and I hope the federal authorities might look at the fact that local airports are concerned because of their business.”
But Lance — who has held several town halls packed with anti-Trump constituents — said he hasn’t heard much feedback about Trump’s vacation in the district.
“I have not. I understand there have been some who have been protesting and that’s part of the American tradition,” Lance said. “Those who have protested have not discussed it with me.”
And there are plenty of protesters.
“He is completely insulated from those voters — even those who demonstrate are kept, I’m sure, a safe distance out of his eyesight and hearing,” said Democratic state Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
Analilia Mejia, executive director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, has helped organize car caravans carrying protest signs every Saturday. Mejia said the strategy came about when authorities put protesters in a “free speech zone” down the road from the golf club.
Mejia said she’s noticed that local politicos for the most part aren’t up in arms about Trump’s visits.
“It’s so infuriating. One, he’s costing New Jersey and Bedminster money. It does cost the state some resources, adding insult to injury ‘Chris Christie’s friend,” Mejia said. “I wish that the establishment Democratic Party leaders or political leaders were putting as much skin in the game as regular people are in defense of their health care, in defense of trying to prevent our families from being ripped apart.”
Still, the most outrage to come out of Trump’s visit wasn’t from the president or his local detractors, but resulted from a snarky Boston Globe article that trafficked in New Jersey stereotypes and decade-old pop culture references, headlined “Forget scenic traditions — Trump vacations in the land of spray tans.”
“Just another reason to ignore the Boston Globe!” Christie tweeted Saturday, just before heading overseas for his own vacation.
Even Trump’s most caustic New Jersey critics, like Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell, who has been on a crusade to force the release of Trump’s tax returns, didn’t begrudge him a pleasant stay in the Garden State.
“We welcome him here. I hope he has one of our famous weiner hot dogs and tries to stuff himself with that,” Pascrell said. “ I hope he has a relaxing 17 days because he has all kinds of stuff.”
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