Trump's Dominance Widens Rift Within N.H.'s GOP

Jan 18, 2016

Trump in Concord in November
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

Donald Trump was characteristically adamant at a recent town hall meeting in Claremont, New Hampshire.

"All I do is tell the truth. I tell the truth."

And the truth, Donald Trump went on to say, is that he's raring to take on Hillary Clinton come November, but..

"I have to get rid of these other people first - no you have to get rid of them first!"

Trump was talking about his rivals for the GOP nomination, yet to hear former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu tell it on Bloomberg TV last week, if Trump succeeds, he'll also be getting rid of scores of local Republicans next fall.

"Here in New Hampshire if Donald Trump is the nominee, we will not get a Republican Governor, we will lose the New Hampshire state senate, and we could lose the New Hampshire state house. It is that bad, and we could lose Senator Ayotte."

Sununu's comments are just a particularly public display of the Trump-inspired hand wringing that's been going on for months in some GOP circles, and it all comes as Republicans here prepare for a tough election season in which Kelly Ayotte is facing a revolt from her party's far right wing, and Congressman Frank Guinta  will test his luck with voters for the first time since admitting a campaign finance violation he'd been dying for years. Adding Donald J. Trump to this mix just complicates things.

Ask Ayotte about him, and you get a practiced response, and a sense she'd rather talk about other things.

"Uh listen, I mean, I think it's the favorite question of the press to ask all of us what we think about Trump...I plan to support our Republican nominee but I think there's a long way to go until that decision is made."

Attend any Trump rally - the one in Claremont attracted a thousand people on a ten-degree night, and it doesn't take long to find Republicans like Alex Carpenter, voters who say they're through toeing the party line. 

"I'm a registered Republican. But I'm not going to hold my nose and vote for whoever the Republican candidate is. I'm done with those games. I want true guys in who actually do what they say they're going to do."

Carpenter knows he won't vote for Kelly Ayotte this fall, but is less certain about who he'll support in the Presidential Primary. Talk like his, though, has some long-time conservative activists thinking 2016 could be a year when they - and not party elites stressing electability - are most attuned to the mood of the electorate.

"You know, it's interesting, conservatives are always told, 'Well if your conservative candidate didn't win, you need to get behind , you know, who is the nominee.'"

Fran Wendelboe is a former state representative and a leader of the conservative 603 Alliance, which is backing Ted Cruz.

"Well, the more moderate establishment part of the party needs to have their medicine with a little bit of sugar hopefully, that it's time for you to do what you've been preaching to us for years and get behind the nominee."

Though it will be months before that nominee is chosen, for Carl Zahn, a Republican who backs Trump, 2016 could be a chance for his party to try something different. If it works, great, says Zahn, and if it doesn't, well, Zahn's fine with that, too.

"If Trump blows up the whole GOP party, I say good. Maybe that's what we need. It's like an alcoholic bottoming out, you know? We need to get into a program."

As they say, the first step is recognizing you have a problem.