As Trump Becomes Official Nominee, The Traditional 'Yankee Republican' May Be Changing

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Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in February. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in February. (Matt Rourke/AP)

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- On Tuesday, Republican delegates from across the country gathered at a benefit BBQ and concert hosted in part by former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown. Brown’s daughter Ayla sang country music and played guitar on stage while beach balls and hats were tossed into the crowd.

It's understandable that some Massachusetts delegates at the Republican National Convention might feel a bit out of place. They're from a "blue" state considered safe for Democratic presidential candidates.

Many of the delegates also can be described as political moderates — or "Yankee Republicans." Some of the current office-holders who might fit that description — including Gov. Charlie Baker — are staying away from the convention.

Christopher Sheldon from New Bedford is attending his first convention as a Massachusetts delegate. Mingling on the riverside deck, Sheldon had high praise for the popular Gov. Baker, even in his notable absence.

"I think Charlie’s done a great job representing the state of Massachusetts," Sheldon said. "I’d like to see him focus a little bit more on the party, I think that he's got a great opportunity to help grow our ranks. And I think that Donald Trump is doing that nationwide, and Charlie has that same opportunity at home in Massachusetts."

Wearing a Trump For President T-shirt, Sheldon said he’s not bothered by Baker’s lack of support for the nominee. Asked about his brand of conservatism, one that allows him to get behind both Trump and Baker, Sheldon says his Republican party is pushing the boundaries of the traditional GOP.

"I don’t like to use labels in general. I think that there are people from all stripes all across the country and, you know, if anything it seems more about age now, than it does about geographic region," he said.

Jeanne Kangas, of Boxborough, considers herself a Yankee Republican. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)
Jeanne Kangas, of Boxborough, considers herself a Yankee Republican. (Shannon Dooling/WBUR)

Jeanne Kangas has no problems with labels. She’s vice chairman of the Massachusetts Republican party from Boxborough.

"You’re talking to a Yankee Republican," she said. "You know, my family, on one side, goes back to the boat."

As an openly gay woman who supports marriage equality, Kangas may not be your typical Trump supporter. But she says she’s reconciled her choice for president with what she sees as her party’s historical values.

"A Massachusetts Republican to me is one who really adheres more to the traditions of our party, of free soil, women’s rights and abolition," Kangas said.

Many party observers would also recognize Kangas as a Yankee Republican.

John Sivolella, of the Pioneer Institute, is a political scientist and a Massachusetts delegate (and a Cognoscenti contributor). Standing in a hallway of the convention arena, Sivolella offered his definition of the term: "Somebody really interested in, main focus is on good government. It’s definitely a fiscally conservative model, being very careful with public monies, with the taxpayer monies, and a little bit more socially moderate.”

Sivolella says Baker also fits that mold.

"We’re at a point in the country where we really need some people to occupy that middle ground. Charlie Baker’s doing that, that’s why he’s in the low- to mid-70s in terms of popularity, because people really want that right now," he said.

Baker, who's often credited for his management skills, skipped this year’s convention, staying at home to focus on his day job.

Trump is heralding his own management skills, citing his business background as proof that he can get things done. Sivolella says, for a number of Republicans, that message has resonated.

"A lot of the people who are voting for Trump are not necessarily socially conservative people," he said. "They’re kind of a meld between almost a more practical side and really the populist side, just like the people who have refused to come to the convention or are not voting for him, they cut across a spectrum as well."

In Sivollela's description, it's as if Trump is acting like a blender set on high — scrambling the party.

"It could be kind of like that big reorganize, and that big kind of shakeup in the party," he said. "Could be really fascinating to see what path it takes because it just, it can’t continue to bounce along the way it’s been going, honestly. I think after November, based on kind of what happens, based on results, the party's got to take a new material path."

Back at the BBQ, Harry Loomos of Lynnfield, does not see a big shift in the making. He says the Massachusetts electorate backing Trump has just been lying in wait.

"It’s always been there," he said. "As soon as Donald Trump came on the scene and declared his candidacy, droves of people showed up to support him. I'm not surprised at all. That base has always been there."

It's just that until now, Loomos says, they've had no where to go.

This segment aired on July 20, 2016.


Shannon Dooling Investigative Reporter
Shannon Dooling was an investigative reporter at WBUR, focused on stories about immigration and criminal justice.



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