While Trump Mania in Vermont seemed unthinkable a week ago, a convergence of large crowds, polling data and analysis by pundits suggests The Donald may be winning over voters in the Green Mountain State.
A “Trumpnado” hit Burlington last week when presidential candidate Donald Trump made a campaign stop in Bernie Sanders’ hometown on short notice. The surprise appearance attracted thousands of supporters and hundreds of protesters, but offered scant hard data on where Trump stands with voters.
“In Vermont, I’m No. 1 by a lot — 32 percent. I’m beating everybody,” Trump said at the opening of his speech — one of many startling statements of the night.
Trump’s claim, almost unimaginable for anyone following news reports ahead of the visit, was based on a little-known poll conducted in Vermont in late December that has Trump leading his closest GOP challenger by 11 points.
According to the telephone survey of 357 likely Republican primary voters, Trump leads the GOP field with 32 percent. His closest rivals are Marco Rubio, at 21 percent and Ted Cruz, at 15 percent. Ben Carson had 8 percent.
The results are similar to a Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire voters, released Monday, which has Trump in front with 32 percent of likely GOP primary voters. Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are tied for second place with 14 percent.
Garrison Nelson, political science professor at the University of Vermont, dismissed the Vermont poll but accepted mainstream polling on the New Hampshire primary.
“Anybody with a telephone can claim to be a poll,” Nelson told Vermont Watchdog.
Commenting on Trump’s lead next door in New Hampshire, he said, “Vermont and New Hampshire are not the same. They are not identical states and have not been since the founding of Vermont in 1791.”
Nelson attributes Trump’s lead in New Hampshire to showmanship, and to the large number of candidates in the GOP field.
“The basic problem is the fact that there are too many Republicans in the race, with 16 opponents. So, consequently, they’re fragmenting the vote, and therefore nobody was coalescing sufficiently in order to knock him off,” Nelson said.
If Trump is leading in Vermont, it wouldn’t be the only shock poll released in recent weeks. A national survey by Washington-based Mercury Analytics found that 20 percent of likely Democratic voters would be willing to defect from their party’s nominee and vote for Trump, and a Rasmussen survey found that 74 percent of likely Republican voters think Trump will be the GOP nominee.
Trump’s ability to draw huge crowds — 13,000 in Biloxi, Mississippi; 8,000 in Lowell, Massachusetts — has caught the attention of prominent liberals. This week, the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson and Vice President Joe Biden claimed Trump could be the next president. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who said Trump would take America “into the abyss of hell,” nevertheless agrees with Trump’s push for a temporary halt on Muslim immigration.
Trump’s appearance in Burlington drew thousands of supporters and stirred pandemonium throughout the city. Managers at the 1,400-seat Flynn Center turned away large crowds, including many who stood all day in a line that stretched two blocks down St. Paul Street, wrapping around to Maple Street. While city police estimated the line at 2,000, individuals at the front third of the line told Vermont Watchdog the theater was near capacity when they got inside at 7 p.m.
The Vermont Workers’ Center controversy
Of the many controversies surrounding Trump’s visit, a petition drive to get the event canceled raised the most eyebrows. The Vermont Workers’ Center, which organized the petition, backed down following accusations the effort amounted to a war on free speech.
On Tuesday, the center’s vice president, Avery Book, posted reflections on the group’s website, saying Trump’s visit “struck a deep chord” with some Vermonters.
“The rhetoric of right-wing populists has struck a deep chord with many of our neighbors who are scared and hurting from a system that divides our communities and fails to meet our fundamental needs,” Book wrote. “Many of Mr. Trump’s supporters are white working class people across the country and in Vermont who have lost their jobs, are in debt, and struggle to pay the rent and keep the heat on.”
Reflecting on her own family’s experience with job losses — in particular, the closing of the Bombardier manufacturing plant in Barre — Book said economic malaise was partly responsible for Trump’s popularity.
“These ideologies exploit the fears and insecurity of the thousands of people in Vermont like those who lost their jobs at that Bombardier plant. They resonate with folks with life experiences like my step-dad, who spent twenty years as a dairy farmer in an economy where more and more small farms go under in the face of corporate giants.”
Book was not alone in highlighting Trump’s appeal. Vermont journalists who spoke on Vermont Public Radio’s Vermont Edition on Friday also said Trump scored points .
“It was mission accomplished, probably, for him. He generated a lot of buzz here in the state of Vermont,” said Anne Galloway, founder and editor of VTDigger.org.
“As a piece of showmanship, it was a triumph,” said Associated Press reporter Dave Gram. “He was able to come into town and put on the show and have it basically go exactly as he wanted it.”
The non-establishment GOP candidate
Whatever success Trump may have achieved, it came despite opposition from the GOP establishment in Vermont. The Vermont Republican Party issued a statement saying it had no part in inviting Trump, and Randy Brock, a former state senator and current candidate for lieutenant governor, associated Trump with “racism, sexism, religious intolerance, xenophobia and economic incoherence.” Brock called Trump “a bully, a bigot and a buffoon.” State Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said he is “in no way a supporter of Donald Trump.”
GOP leaders appeared to be using the same talking points as Democrats. Gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter accused Trump of “hateful rhetoric,” and hundreds of Sanders supporters outside the Flynn Center welcomed the candidate with signs saying “Trump = bigotry” and “a vote for Trump is a vote for hate.”
But Eileen Rodgers, a Republican from Burlington, and a member of the Burlington GOP, said state party leaders are underestimating Trump’s populist appeal with Vermonters.
“I think they’re getting it wrong. They’re shutting themselves off from the possibility that Trump could be rising in the polls here,” she said.
Rodgers said she was excited to see an enthusiastic young crowd, and was equally impressed by the number of women in the audience. “Anyone who wants to call him a sexist, it didn’t reflect in the crowd that he had at the rally.”
Rodgers rejects claims that Trump’s appeal is based on celebrity.
“He talked about the issues that are important to me. He talked about the issues that other politicians aren’t talking about,” she said. “Everybody I knew that was there the other night loved it. They thought it was fabulous.”