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With Trump as Official Nominee, Idea of "Yankee Republican" May Be Changing

Ida May Astute

Scattered across the GOP convention hall floor in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates from around New England have been cheering in support of Donald Trump, a candidate who has run largely on an anti-establishment platform.

Many of the same New England delegates fit the description of political moderates, long known as Yankee Republicans. But some of the highest-ranking officials who fit the description are staying away from the convention -- while their constituents rally behind Trump.

First of all, let’s explain who fits the traditional mold of a Yankee Republican.

“I’m a Yankee Republican,” said Bill Lawrence of Underhill, Vermont. “I’m strong with financial issues. I don’t need the government worrying what’s going on inside my house. That’s not what their job is.”

Lawrence said he wasn’t surprised that Trump handily won each of the New England states in the primary; his fellow moderate Republicans are practical, he said, and simply want to see someone in the White House who can get things done.

“If you look at government today, it is big business. And what’s Donald Trump? He’s a businessman,” said Lawrence. 

John Sivolella, is a political scientist and a Massachusetts delegate. He said Trump’s business background has been enough to sway many voters, bringing Independents, Republicans and even some Democrats into play. 

“A lot of the people who are voting for Trump are not necessarily socially conservative people, and they’re kind of a meld between almost a more practical side and really the populist side,” said Sivolella.

As a national committeewoman from Keene, New Hampshire, Juliana Bergeron said she’s been acutely aware of that populist sentiment. And while Bergeron acknowledges that Trump is not without his flaws, she said that after a long primary season, she’s trusting in the voters and supporting the party’s ticket.

“You know, there were times when I was happy with 17 candidates because I thought we would have a president, a [Vice President] and we could fill all the cabinet seats, and there were other times I felt that to get the best candidate, we’d have to put them all in a blender,” said Bergeron.

“So, I remained neutral throughout,” Bergeron continued, “but I easily came over to Trump because if that’s what the people of [New Hampshire] want, and the people of the country, I think we have to trust that.”

With Republicans like Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte sitting out the convention -- and Maine Senator Susan Collins still noncommittal -- the New England Republicans here in Cleveland are tasked with whipping themselves into a frenzy.

Doreen Costa, for one, has no problem with that:

“This is my second convention, and this is no comparison to the [Mitt] Romney convention” in 2012, said Costa, a Rhode Island state representative. “This is so upbeat, everybody’s so positive, it’s just a lot of fun.”

Costa says she chalks up this year’s energy to a newfound optimism.

“It’s a different crowd, it’s a different feeling,” said Costa. “People are more pumped. I think people see that this is possible. We thought it was with Mitt, but not quite sure.”

“I mean, you’ve got Trump taking 65 percent in [Rhode Island], the bluest of blue states,” said Costa. “It’s amazing.”

That 65 percent, of course, refers to Trump’s enormous victory in the Rhode Island Republican primary.

Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown amazed much of the country back in 2010 when he turned a longtime Democratic Senate seat red by replacing Ted Kennedy in a special election.

A one-time possible VP contender, Brown is here in Cleveland as a Fox News contributor, and says he’s focused on moving the party forward.

“It’s about the party, it’s about unifying the party, taking back the White House, keeping the Senate, expand the numbers or keeping the house and having an opportunity to change the agenda,” said Brown.

Asked about the lack of unified support from his fellow big-name New England Republicans, Brown says they’re just doing what they feel is right.

“Maybe Kelly [Ayotte] and Charlie [Baker] and Susan [Collins] by saying what they’re doing is still that Yankee independence that we all know and love,” said Brown. “That’s what makes us New Englanders. So, I think that spirit is still alive, but I just think it’s maybe not traditional as it was in years past.”

And it’s safe to say that for most of the New England delegates here in Cleveland, doing what they feel is right is part of being a Yankee Republican.

This report comes from the New England News Collaborative, eight public media companies coming together to tell the story of a changing region, with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2016 Connecticut Public

Shannon Dooling

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