President Trump on Tuesday rallied supporters in New Jersey in the home district of recently converted Republican Rep. Jefferson Van Drew, praising him as a “courageous leader” for bucking House Democrats on the impeachment vote last month.
Trump and Van Drew appeared onstage together in Wildwood, where the president highlighted the congressman’s flip to the GOP to paint the Democratic Party as out of step with the rest of the country, particularly on the issue of impeachment.
“A few weeks ago, Jeff was one of the few brave and principled Democrat lawmakers who stood up to the House Democrats and the outrageous abuse of power that you see going on right now,” Trump told supporters.
Trump urged attendees to vote for Van Drew in a June 2 primary, where the congressman is expected to face a challenge for the Republican nomination.
Trump called Van Drew up to the stage, and the congressman made brief remarks thanking the president for holding a rally in his home district.
The president suggested Van Drew’s switch was a sign of broader discontent within the Democratic Party, though no other lawmakers have left the party like Van Drew.
“Voters are making a mass exodus from that party, and we are welcoming them to the Republican Party with wide-open arms,” Trump said. “And the Republican Party is doing great.”
Trump latched on to Van Drew’s party flip to argue his impeachment will ultimately benefit him and the GOP politically. The two held a photo op in the Oval Office in December, at which time Trump endorsed the congressman, who in turn pledged his “undying loyalty” to the president.
Van Drew represents New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, which Trump won by 4.6 percentage points in 2016. A former dentist and state lawmaker, Van Drew was one of several moderate Democrats who helped the party secure a majority in 2018.
But the congressman grew frustrated with the party as he remained one of its only holdouts in terms of support for impeaching Trump. After internal polls reportedly showed his support floundering among Democrats in his home district, Van Drew made the decision to switch parties.
The flip was a coup for Trump in terms of messaging, as it allowed him to trumpet bipartisan opposition to his impeachment.
The House impeached Trump last month for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after alleging he withheld security aid and a White House meeting for Ukraine to get the country to help with investigations into his political rivals. No Republicans voted for the articles, and Trump is currently on trial in the Senate.
Van Drew’s affiliation with Trump’s GOP is something of an odd match. The lawmaker has voted with Trump’s position just 12.5 percent of the time during the current Congress, according to FiveThirtyEight.
Amy Kennedy, the wife of former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), announced earlier this month that she will run as a Democrat to challenge Van Drew in the November election.
Tuesday night’s rally was a raucous affair. Thousands of supporters had gathered outside the arena at least a day in an advance to ensure their place inside. Trump does not often visit New Jersey, other than to spend time at his Bedminster golf club.
And while Trump was ostensibly in town to boost Van Drew’s prospects as he faces a challenging path to reelection, the contents of his remarks hewed closely to most of his other rallies.
He railed against impeachment, boasted about low unemployment rates and touted recent military operations that killed ISIS founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Trump at one point invited White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, a South Jersey native, up to the stage.
Conway has faced numerous ethics complaints from outside watchdog groups alleging she has violated the Hatch Act by speaking in her official capacity about Democratic candidates. On Tuesday, she stuck to praising Trump and rattled off a series of accomplishments she said warranted a second term.
“Mr. President, I think South Jersey is Trump Country,” she said to cheers.