Never one to shy away from a fight, Donald Trump will make his first campaign appearance in New Jersey Thursday in a community with a large Latino community.
Some in that community, infuriated by Trump’s notoriously inflammatory rhetoric about Latinos, greeted news of The Donald’s impending arrival at the Lawrenceville National Guard Armory, just north of Trenton, with questions.
Why here? And why now?
Mercer County and Lawrenceville are Democratic strongholds where Trump’s take on immigration issues (Build a wall between here and Mexico! Deport ‘illegals!’) has fanned fury in the region’s burgeoning Latino community. Fifteen percent of Mercer County’s 366,500 residents are Latino, and more than 2,500 Latinos live in Lawrenceville, census data shows.
As for the timing: New Jersey holds its primary late in the season (June 7), when nominees usually are already decided, so campaigning candidates typically ignore the Garden State.
“He’s pretty gutsy to show up anywhere, not just here in New Jersey,” said Amner Deleon, 38, an accountant who’s active in Democratic politics in neighboring Princeton. “He has alienated not only the Latinos but the women, the Muslims, and pretty much anyone in the immigrant community. He definitely has the Republicans fooled. Anyone I run into, I’m making sure that they get a voter registration form and that they go out and vote, even though New Jersey usually is a blue state.”
‘He’s making us a target.’
Jose Silverio’s distaste for Trump is more personal.
Born in Mexico, Silverio came to the United States with relatives when he was just 9. He’s not a U.S. citizen, but he is here legally on a permit through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That 2012 policy, created by President Obama, allows undocumented people who came to the United States as children to stay here on renewable work permits.
Jose Silverio, 26, stands behind the counter at Good Taste, his aunt’s Mexican restaurant in Lawrenceville. Silverio worries what a Trump presidency would mean for his future. (Dana DiFilippo/WHYY)
“He’s making us a target. I feel like if he gets elected, he will do the best in his power to send me back to Mexico,” said Silverio, 26, who lives in Princeton and works at his aunt’s Good Taste restaurant in Lawrenceville. “I wouldn’t have anywhere to go in Mexico. That’s not home.”
Such concerns drove activists with the New Jersey Working Families Alliance to plan a protest outside of Trump’s rally to highlight what they say is the billionaire businessman’s “hate, sexism and racism.” A Facebook post inviting supporters to the 4 p.m. protest — “Say no to hate in the Garden State!” — has garnered 148 likes and 67 shares.
While protests and distaste across such diverse demographics might make seasoned politicians wince and even change tactics, Trump seems as unlikely to respond to their objections as he’d be to style his cornsilk comb-over into a mohawk, experts agree.
Conventional rules don’t apply
“The Hispanic population is making up a larger proportion of the electorate than ever before, and if you’re going to write off that population, or get only 25 percent of their support, it makes it much tougher for you to win,” said Ben Dworkin, a political science professor at Rider University in Lawrenceville and director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
“But the thing with Donald Trump that is so fascinating is that the rules don’t apply,” Dworkin added. “Political scientists like me tend to look at past history to predict how the future might unfold. But those rules have all disappeared here. You’re not supposed to win the Republican party nomination after insulting a GOP senator who was a POW for being stupid enough to be shot down. And yet, Donald Trump is there. Whatever things he does, conventional rules don’t apply to him. He continues to find himself to be successful regardless of what he says. Those in the party who want him to change now that he effectively has sown up the nomination are whistling in the wind.”
New Jersey’s Latino population — numbering about 1.7 million — is the seventh-largest in the nation and accounts for about a fifth of the state’s residents, according to the Pew Research Center. Nearly half of them, or 831,000, are eligible to vote, representing 14 percent of the state’s total electorate, according to Pew. In an April poll by Latino Decision, 87 percent of Latino voters nationally had a “totally unfavorable” opinion about Trump, and 41 percent said they were more likely to vote this year to “stop Trump.”
Demographics and polls have nothing to do with why Trump chose Lawrenceville (township slogan: “Where nature smiles for 22 miles!”) to make his first New Jersey campaign stop, Dworkin said. Rather, he said, the location is likely to get Trump — who regards reporters as “lying, disgusting people” — the most media coverage.
“It’s a central location that gives him access to both Philadelphia and New York media markets,” Dworkin said. “It makes sense if you want to get the widest amount of media coverage to come here.”
Trump’s appearance is part rally and part fundraiser. The GOP presidential will stump for himself, while helping Gov. Chris Christie dent his $400,000 debt from his failed presidential bid, at the $200-a-ticket event.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump can’t top the ‘Cream King’, a local ice cream stand, on one whimsical lawn sign in Pennington, N.J. (Dana DiFilippo/WHYY)