Donald Trump is mining the Garden State for cash as well as votes, holding two big fundraisers at the Lawrenceville National Guard Armory. One to help the state Republican Party pay off more than half a million dollars in legal fees racked up investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal. Another to dispatch the debt Gov. Chris Christie racked up running for president. NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron was in Lawrenceville and discussed the issues with Anchor Mary Alice Williams.
Williams: Michael this is Trump’s first public event in New Jersey. What’s his agenda for the evening?
Aron: Well, Mary Alice, Donald Trump and Chris Christie are scheduled to arrive here at 6:30. They’ll attend a roundtable in a nearby building on this campus. About 18 to 20 people will have paid $25,000 to attend that. The proceeds to go to the Republican State Committee for its legal debt related to Bridgegate. Then they’ll come over here for a rally. The crowd here keeps growing. People here have paid $200 to get in. That money will go to retire Chris Christie’s campaign debt of $250,000. The excitement here is palpable. Earlier I spoke with Christie political confidante Bill Palatucci about the Trump campaign.
Aron: Bill, how do you explain the Trump phenomenon?
Palatucci: I don’t know how to explain it. We spent like eight or nine months trying to defeat the Trump phenomenon and couldn’t. And so, it’s just a different year. I think that’s why you see Bernie Sanders, a socialist from Vermont, giving Hillary Clinton the run of her life and Donald Trump lapping the field. So the governor and Donald know each other for a good long time and so we couldn’t beat him, the governor decided to join him.
Aron: You’ve been around presidential politics for a long time. To what extent is there sort of an extra level of excitement around Trump?
Palatucci: Oh there’s always excitement as you say with presidential politics and every four years, but it’s even elevated here. I was watching the crowd come in and there’s people you typically don’t see at anybody’s rally. Only in presidential politics. Whether that’s for Donald Trump or George Bush or Barack Obama. It’s just presidential politics. It’s historic. It’s exciting. It brings out people that you don’t normally see getting involved.
Aron: Speaking of George Bush, Trump has not completely unified the Republican Party yet. The Bush family, you have close ties, you worked for both Bushes. Will Trump eventually bring the Bushes and the Romneys of the Republican Party around?
Palatucci: It’s a work in progress. You’ve seen John McCain who initially was hesitant to come on board. You’ve seen more members of Congress and U.S. senators come on board. So it’s a process. He just wrapped up the nomination being the presumptive nominee and so as time goes on and we get closer to the convention I have every confidence that everybody will be on board.
Aron: How formidable is Hillary Clinton as an opponent?
Palatucci: I think she’s a very flawed candidate. She’s yesterday’s news. The Clinton administration was years and years ago and she has very high negatives. And so I’m not intimidated or put off by Hillary Clinton’s chances myself at all. … You’ve seen that in recent polls this week, nationally Donald Trump being ahead of Hillary Clinton. Her negatives are just so high and somebody that well known in the public just can’t reverse that.
Aron: Does Trump have enough knowledge about public policy, about politics, about the world to be the commander in chief?
Palatucci: I believe so. I think Donald Trump is a guy who knows what he doesn’t know. He’s been very successful at business. He’s watched this country get into trouble and lack of leadership around the world, so I think he’ll bring people like Gov. Christie and others into his fold to help him with all that. So I have every confidence that as we move along through this process, people get more and more confident and comfortable with Donald Trump.
Aron: If he’s successful, is there a role for Chris Christie in a Trump administration?
Palatucci: You’d have to ask Donald Trump and Chris Christie that question, Michael.
Aron: How about for Bill Palatucci?
Palatucci: I’m a Jersey guy Michael. I’m real comfortable right here.
Aron: Bill Palatucci thanks very much.
Palatucci: Thanks Michael.
Aron: I’d say the size of this crowd now is up to about 500. This is not like other Trump rallies because these people had to pay to get in — $200 to go to the Chris Christie campaign debt. There are also a couple hundred protesters outside and we’ll have a full report on what gets said here on the Friday night newscast. Mary Alice, back to you.
Williams: Thank you Michael. And you know while Michael Aron is inside, our Erin Delmore is outside with protesters on the perimeter. It’s a crowd at once enthusiastic and rowdy. It’s the kind of raw coverage we can bring to you as it’s happening. If you can’t get down to Lawrenceville, this is the next best thing to being there. You can find it on our Facebook page. We’ll be livestreaming her reports on our Facebook page throughout this evening until Trump is wheels up.