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Reaction to Trump's Muslim Comments Exposes N.H.'s GOP Divide

Allegra Boverman for NHPR
Donald Trump speaking at a GOP leadership summit in N.H. in April 2015

For GOP Chair Jennifer Horn, Trump's call for a "total and complete shutdown" on allowing Muslims into the county was too much. In a statement, she called out Trump's policy statement.

"It is un-Republican. It is unconstitutional. And it is un-American."

The state's top elected Republican official, US Senator Kelly Ayotte, wasn't nearly as pointed but made the same basic argument when asked to weigh in Trump's call to ban Muslim immigration.

"We've not had a religious test, and that certainly seems inconsistent with the values embodied in our first amendment." 

New Hampshire GOP committeeman Steve Duprey, meanwhile, sees Trump's comments as bad for America, and bad for Republicans.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
N.H. GOP Chair Jennifer Horn at a Rick Perry event in Concord in late 2014.

"Not only is his idea unconstitutional, I find it extraordinarily discouraging. I think the American people not only want to be safe, but they also want to be part of am America that stands for the greatest force for good and democracy in the world, at that is why every other candidate has indicated they strongly disagree with Mr.Trump's views on this issue."

And GOP have candidates have, in various ways, indicated disapproval with Trumps's comments. The only major Republican now in New Hampshire, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, didn't directly mention Trump's words as he campaigned in Manchester, but it was the first question he faced from reporters.

"Governor, what is your reaction to this whole Muslim thing, by Donald Trump?

"You know I don't think Donald Trump is serious, and what he is saying isn't a serious plan and we are living in a serious time and we need real leadership. All of this helps his buddy, Hillary Clinton, that's for sure."

If history is any guide, predicting who or what might be helped and hurt by incendiary statements from Donald Trump may be folly. All campaign long, Trump has said and done things that had his critics predicting his demise. And yet, Trump tops the polls now and has for months.

His backers think this current controversy, like those in the past, will die down. But Steve Stepanek, Trump's state co-chairman, says this one may not fade so quickly.

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
Donald Trump speaks to the media after signing up for the N.H. Primary in November.

"This one is a little bit more than the other comments, only because the establishment who is afraid of him, is looking for any angle to go after him, but he sticks to it."

And Trump supporters are angry at what they see as a bias among New Hampshire's GOP elite against their candidate. They say they'll stick with their plans to try to force Jennifer Horn's removal as GOP chair for not remaining neutral. Al Baldasaro is a state representative from Londonderry 

"You know, the Jennifer Horn thing is not going to die down, because there is a petition going around to get her to resign. So that's not going to die down."

Nor will the scrutiny faced by Trump as this candidacy continues to upend expectation. He'll be in Portsmouth Thursday to campaign at meeting of the New England Police Benevolent association.  

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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