BRANCHBURG – There is nothing of the braggart, bully or self-promoter in Leonard Lance.
In terms of his own deportment, the 7th District Republican Congressman from Glen Gardner is probably the opposite of President Donald J. Trump in every way imaginable, a function, arguably, of old money indifference, in the truest sense of that word, which makes Lance shy away from – rather than voraciously embrace – scenes, screams, tongue lashings, and all manner of public rudeness and projected self love.
Still, the most sedate man in New Jersey politics with a strong environmental record when he was a state senator outraged environmentalists almost a decade ago when he reversed himself on early support for Cap and Trade and undertook a calculated move rightward to block those Republicans to the right of him who were just as furious that he ever voted with President Barack Obama in the first place.
Policy-wise, there appears to be little daylight between Lance and the newly crowned Republican president.
And so tonight, as throngs of angry anti-Trump supporters shook signs and screamed into bullhorns, Lance took to the stage looking more than ever like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, trying to maintain his dignity in the looking glass lunacy of Trump world and its raging, fist-shaking counterweight bulging behind police tape outside and fast filling the auditorium.
There were 950 butts in those seats tonight with CNN cameras rolling, and another 400 in an overflow room when InsiderNJ found the congressman backstage. He was his usual composed self.
He has another one of these town halls set for Saturday.
They had to turn too many people away.
“I know what it’s like to be disappointed,” he said, acknowledging the throngs who had shown up to bash him and Trump. “I was a big supporter of Mitt Romney, not only in 2012 but in 2008, when he first ran. I know what it’s like to support someone who loses. A lot of people supported Hillary Clinton. …I hope to have a civil dialogue. I hope to be treated civilly in return.”
He noted that even as Hillary Clinton won his district by 3,000 votes, he defeated his Democratic challenger by
38,000 votes in last year’s general election.
But the old aristocratic moderate had evaporated in the vapid right wingery of GOP Primary politics for too many of the stampeding multitude here tonight, irritated with Lance for backing trump for president early, a move made to turn the oxygen off of a perennial primary challenger hoping to corral some off that populist power against the veteran from Hunterdon.
Lance attempted to sturdily correct the record on his endorsement.
“I endorsed Chris Christie for president,” he told InsiderNJ. “It was clear Donald Trump was going to be our nominee when I endorsed him.”
As for those other Republican members of Congress hiding from town hall appearances, Lance didn’t condemn.
“I do not tell other members of congress how to conduct their office,” he said. ‘i have held 40 town halls in person and 40-45 on the telephone.”
He will keep doing it, he said.
But what about Trump, InsiderNJ wanted to know, and the disrespectful way he treats people, so different from Lance, who must now weather the public blows of association? “I do not tell the president how to conduct himself,” the congressman said. “I am comfortable with the way I conduct myself.”
It showed. But so too did the creases of concern in his face, the vexation of concentration perhaps to stay poised, with Trump supplying, on the other end of public behavior, such an obvious and – to the people here – obnoxious and dangerous – contradiction.