Trump holds beachfront rally on Jersey Shore amid criminal trial in New York

Former President Donald Trump held a beachfront rally on the Jersey Shore on Saturday, returning to the campaign trail after an explosive week of testimony in his hush money trial in New York.

The event in Wildwood, located in South New Jersey, marks Trump’s third campaign rally since the start of his trial four weeks ago. Unlike Michigan and Wisconsin, where Trump held rallies last week, New Jersey is not considered a battleground state. Trump lost the Garden State by about 16 points to President Joe Biden in 2020.

Still, Trump claimed he could win the state as he spoke to the crowd in Wildwood, part of Cape May County, which is in a New Jersey district that is much friendlier to Republicans. Trump won the county in 2020 with 57.5% of the vote, and 58.4% in 2016.

“We’re expanding the electoral map because we’re going to officially play in the state of New Jersey,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said. We’re going to win the state of New Jersey.”

In interviews with CNN ahead of the rally, some Republicans questioned the decision by the campaign to spend one of Trump’s limited days off from court campaigning in a state that has voted Democratic in the last seven straight presidential elections.

But a Trump campaign official said the campaign sees an opportunity to tap into the nearby media market in the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania and get local TV coverage in Philadelphia. They expected the crowd to include attendees from the city and suburbs of Philadelphia, which is about an hour and a half drive from Wildwood.

During his remarks, the former president praised North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, for his energy knowledge and told the crowd to “get ready for something.”

“You won’t find anybody better than this gentleman in terms of his knowledge of, you know he made his money in technology, but he probably knows more about energy than anybody I know. So, get ready for something, okay, just get ready. But Doug Burgum has been incredible,” Trump said.

Burgum, who ran for president this cycle but suspended his campaign after failing to gain any real traction, is one of several people being speculated as a potential running mate for Trump.

Saturday wasn’t Trump’s first time campaigning in the city. In January 2020, Trump held a rally in Wildwood in an effort to support the city’s congressman, Rep. Jeff Van Drew, who shocked his House colleagues in 2019 when he switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican during Trump’s first impeachment trial and pledged his “undying support” to the then-president.

In the years since, Trump has maintained a good relationship with Van Drew and continues to praise his decision to switch parties, something the former president often characterizes as an example of Democrats being fed up with the left, according to sources familiar with the comments. The former Democrat is leading the Trump campaign’s efforts in New Jersey and spoke at the rally Saturday.

Trump slammed his November rival at the rally as he doubled down on his support for Israel in its war in Gaza, which he said is “probably bad politically, but I don’t care.”

The former president told the crowd that Biden committed “one of the worst betrayals of an American ally in the history of our country” by saying the US would halt some shipments of weapons to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a major invasion of the city of Rafah.

“Crooked Joe’s action is one of the worst betrayals of an American ally in the history of our country. I support Israel’s right to win its war on terror. Is that ok? I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s good or bad politically, I don’t care. You gotta do what’s right,” Trump said.

Despite Trump and his campaign’s insistence that the former president would take advantage of every second he wasn’t tied to his trial, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has not taken full advantage of his off days from court to campaign. Instead, he’s spent much of his free time fundraising, including speaking at a luncheon at his Mar-a-Lago club during the Republican National Committee’s annual retreat last weekend and playing golf at his Bedminster club on a recent Wednesday.

Trump insulted Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who brought the hush money case against him, and declared that “this case is a sham.”

“As you know, I’ve come here from New York, where I’m being forced to endure a Biden show trial all done by Biden … all being done by him, carried out by radical Democrat district attorney, you know who he is? Fat Alvin. Corrupt guy,” Trump said, going on to baselessly claim that the judge presiding over the trial is “highly conflicted.”

Some people close to Trump have acknowledged that they are surprised by the dearth of traditional campaigning on the sidelines of the trial, especially given that the general election is less than six months away. They also raised questions about the campaign choosing to spend one of his weekends away from court in New Jersey, rather than one of the more crucial 2024 battlegrounds.

“It’s an odd choice,” one of the people said. “But this is Trump being Trump. He loves New Jersey and Atlantic City.”

Republican strategist Matt Gorman, a former senior adviser to South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott’s presidential campaign, told CNN the proximity of Wildwood to his trial in Manhattan, as well as his golf club in Bedminster, likely also played a factor.

“It’s a chance for him to be in Trump Country that’s close to Bedminster and probably a lot cheaper than having to fly and set up an event in a swing state,” Gorman said.

This headline and story have been updated with additional developments.

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