By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
LAWRENCE — Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday brought his campaign to Mercer County before a raucous crowd that soaked up his message of tougher border enforcement, better trade deals and a strong military.
Mr. Trump trotted out many of the familiar themes that has taken him to the cusp of the Republican nomination in his first run for political office. From inside the National Guard Armory on Eggert Crossing Road, he talked of building a wall at the southern border with Mexico and said the North American Free Trade Agreement would “probably” be repealed.
He also touched on how the next president would pick three or more Supreme Court justices, having this week released a list of names of 11 judges he would consider appointing to the high court.
But he had some of his strongest words for Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
“And if Hillary Clinton gets in,” he said, “I don’t know if our country can ever recover.”
With his characteristic arm gestures and off-the-cuff speaking style, Mr. Trump retraced his meteoric rise through the crowded Republican primary. In making his first campaign stop in New Jersey, he returned to one of his signature issues: immigration and border security with Mexico.
“We’re going to build that wall, it’s going to be a real wall,” he said. “And we’re going to have people come into our country, but they’re going to come into our country legally.”
He talked of making “great” trade deals and putting high taxes on products of companies that leave America for a foreign country. He pointed to job losses that have left crumbling factories and buildings where people once worked in his home state of New York.
“Now, I’m a free trader,” he said, “but I’m only a free trader if we make good deals.”
He talked of rebuilding a military that has been “decimated.”
“We are going to have a military that’s going to be so big and so strong and so powerful that nobody is going to mess with us,” he said.
Later, he talked of repealing and replacing Obamacare, the president’s health care law, and defending gun rights.
Thursday’s event was a fundraiser for Gov. Chris Christie to pay off campaign debt from his failed presidential race. Before Mr. Trump took the stage, the Republican governor lauded Mr. Trump, whom he has endorsed.
“We know that there are people out there that want to hurt America and Americans,” Gov. Christie said. “We need a strong president who will fight back and defend America first. And I am confident that that person is Donald Trump.”
But the occasion of Mr. Trump’s campaign visit was met with sharp criticism from state Democratic lawmakers earlier in the day and then from protestors across the street from the Armory. A plane circling the area carried a banner declaring “dump Christie and Trump.”
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said both Gov. Christie and Mr. Trump are “wrong” for working families.
Yet the protest did not diminish the enthusiasm of supporters, who waited hours for Mr. Trump to arrive for the scheduled 7 p.m. appearance. Cindy Kyreakakis, wearing a USA tiara, said she felt Mr. Trump was a “born leader” who will turn the country and the economy around.
Mr. Trump’s outsider candidacy appealed to voters like Eric Stephens, who expressed frustration with Republicans in Congress, while Leonard Steinberg said Mr. Trump had connected with the average person.
As people raised their smart phones to record the moment, Mr. Trump soaked up the adulation of the crowd. At one point, he declared, “There’s nothing like New Jersey.”
“This is my people,” he said of the audience, some wearing Trump hats and shirts.
Hesham Korayem, who emigrated from Egypt in 1972 and is a small businessman, said he is a Trump supporter. But he said he wants to hear more specifics from Mr. Trump and to see the real estate mogul act “presidential.”
By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer