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Upper Valley’s Trump Voters Stand by Their Man

  • Rob Spaulding, 47, a small-business owner, cast his ballot for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Spaulding was photographed in his taxidermy and archery shop in Cornish, N.H., Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Melissa Maranville, 39, of Claremont, N.H., a small business owner, cast her ballot for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Maranville was photographed in her hobby store in Claremont, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • David Casciani, 26, of Claremont, an entrepreneur with a handful of small business ventures, cast his ballot for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Casciani was photographed in Claremont, N.H., Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lisa Ray, 49, of Claremont, who is on medical leave from her work in merchandising, cast her ballot for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Ray was photographed outside her home in Claremont, N.H., Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Presidential candidate Donald Trump is met by a cheering, full-capacity crowd during a January 5, 2015, rally at Stevens High School in Claremont, N.H. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, November 05, 2017

Claremont — Some of the Upper Valley residents who cast their ballots for Donald Trump a year ago find themselves down on their luck, working multiple angles to make ends meet, and scraping by without health insurance.

But they’ve got a message for anyone who thinks they might be displeased with Trump’s actions over the last 12 months.

“Will I vote for him again? You’re goddamned right I will,” Rob Spaulding, a taxidermist in Cornish, said last week.

In winning the presidential election last year, Trump narrowly lost New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton by fewer than 3,000 votes out of more than 730,000 votes cast, but won Sullivan County, taking 11 of 15 communities, including Claremont.

And voters in the Claremont area last week said they still see Trump as a needed agent of reform, and not a problem-plagued president — though some said winning tax cuts for the middle class will be key in shaping their future opinions of his level of success.

Spaulding on Wednesday held a scalpel, scraping paint off a glass eye set into a boar carcass that he stuffed at his business, Drop Tine Taxidermy in Cornish. Taxidermy is an artistic endeavor, he said, one best not attempted by those who lack talent. Beneath the harsh lights in the adjacent garage, a stuffed turkey perched, lifelike, while behind it a thawing deer head dripped rose-colored fluid into a pan.

To Democrats who have been opposed to Trump from the time he first emerged as the Republican front-runner for the White House, the last year has been a never-ending stream of scandal, missteps and failures that have reinforced their views that he is ill-suited to the job at hand.

But Republicans such as Spaulding have witnessed a different year unfolding, one in which a larger-than-life, Reagan-esque hero has steadfastly fought for the working class, despite an onslaught of attacks from Democrats, the media and turncoat Republicans.

“He’s doing everything he could possibly do, but he’s not getting any cooperation,” said Spaulding, who also owns the Unity General Store.

The 47-year-old Spaulding said a poor economy and increased premiums have kept him without health insurance, and forestalled any thoughts of a future retirement.

“The past eight years really put a dagger in the spirit of this country,” he said. “If you’re in business, you know the economy sucks.”

For now, it’s easier to pay to treat his health problems — diabetes and psoriatic arthritis — out of pocket, than it would be to shell out between $200 and $300 a month for health insurance. After all, he said, in a lean month he can always skip a treatment — but there’s no getting out of a health insurance bill.

Spaulding said he usually doesn’t vote, but when he heard about Trump, he made a special effort.

“He’s one of us,” Spaulding said. “He’s blue collar.”

Now, nothing about Trump’s behavior since has surprised him.

“I knew he was going to be blue-collar loose cannon,” Spaulding said. “That’s what we want.”

Though Trump is a billionaire real estate developer, Spaulding sees in the president someone who champions the working class, in large part because he senses that Trump shares his culture. That’s not unusual, according to Andrew Smith, the director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, which recently released the latest results of a Granite State Poll.

“His wealth reflects more, I think, how a blue-collar person would see themselves if they were wealthy,” Smith said. “ ‘I’d have flashy cars and all this stuff and I’d go to the golf course.’ ... It’s an aspirational view of life. If they’re not wealthy, they don’t like to think that they’re always going to be poor.”

The Granite State Poll found that roughly 1 in 3 New Hampshire residents approve of Trump, down about 10 percentage points from when he was inaugurated, but virtually unchanged since August. And an overwhelming majority of those who voted for Trump — 87 percent — say they’re satisfied with their vote for him.

Immigration

Lisa Ray, 49, stood in the chill outside her home along Route 120 in Claremont, watching as contractors from two companies scouted the far reaches of her lawn for a suitable location for a new septic tank.

“That’s really far out,” she murmured to herself, distressed at the thought of the implications for the bill, which would be necessary to prevent more sewage from backing up into her basement. For the last year, Ray has been on medical leave from her career, which has consisted mostly of a long string of customer service and merchandising jobs for various companies in the retail sector. Like many Trump supporters, Ray saw in Trump a breath of fresh air who might bring change to the country.

“He was not a politician. He was different,” she said. When Ray talked about the change he would bring, though, she didn’t dwell on specific policies — she didn’t think that he would help with the cost of her health care, or put her in a better position to pay for the septic tank. Ray wanted a different kind of change, what she called “everyday change,” in the way that people view their country.

Spaulding, the taxidermist, had expressed a similar idea — under Trump, he said, people would be more ashamed to collect social service benefits, which he said would prevent overuse of the system. For Ray, the “everyday change” that’s needed is in attitudes toward immigration.

“I have no problem with people coming in this country,” she said. “But do it legally.”

Tougher immigration policies were a cornerstone of Trump’s campaign, and though his signature border wall remains mired in the political process, he has used his executive powers to try to eliminate sanctuary cities, threaten the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, hire more U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and ban immigrants from several Muslim-majority countries, with his rhetoric suggesting that he’d like to go much further.

Ray said the issue was personal to her because she’s been affected by illegal immigrants. While at a local business, she met a group of a half-dozen illegal immigrants from Latin America who were in the country on a construction job. They seemed fun — flirting with her one minute, and calling her “Mami” the next.

“I ended up bringing them home,” she said, opening her house in friendship to them. Over time, Ray said, she learned that they were shoplifting from large retail outlets in the area.

“They were my good friends,” she said. “But they were trying to take advantage of the system.”

The friendship didn’t end well, she said. She feels that they also took advantage of her generosity.

Asked if they stole from her, she nodded. “I believe they did steal,” she said, adding a moment later, “they stole from me emotionally.”

Ray said Trump will help prevent others from being taken advantage of by those who visit the country illegally. The only surprise she’s experienced during his first nine months in office has been the level of opposition that he’s faced from the left.

“Everybody else is kicking him in the teeth,” she said. “I think he tries.”

Corruption and Perception

The tall, lean form of David Casciani, 26, was sunken into a cushy couch at a pizza restaurant in Claremont, checking his phone.

Though he’s on a short medical leave from his primary job at a dairy farm, Casciani still has a lot going on. An entrepreneur, Casciani said he’s intentionally diversified his income to match a new economy, in which company loyalty is a distant consideration, and flexibility and energy are key.

“You can’t rely on one thing,” he said. “You have to think about how to change the future for yourselves.”

He recently launched a breakfast restaurant that flopped ($37,000, and it lasted 37 days, he said), but that’s to be expected. He’s got lots of irons in the fire, and they’re not all going to work out. In addition to milking cows, he’s marketing a line of flavor-infused maple syrups (black licorice and blueberry are among the tastes on offer), he’s a franchise representative for an internet-based discount service, and he rents out rooms in the house that he owns.

Casciani, who described Trump as “arrogant,” was the only Trump voter of those interviewed who had any criticism of his candidate.

“I can’t stand his Twitter feed,” he said. “I think he needs to shut up and do what he does best: Making deals and finding solutions to problems.”

In those ways, Casciani’s views are representative of the Granite State Poll, which found that only 20 percent of New Hampshire residents believe Trump should continue to tweet his personal views, and “arrogant” was among the most popular one-word descriptions Republican voters used to describe Trump (albeit after other terms, such as “leader” and “strong”).

But Casciani said he’s generally supportive of his president, who he said has made great strides in a campaign promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington.

“I think there’s a lot of corruption in Washington,” he said.

The media has focused on the various ethical lapses that have plagued Trump and his administration — Trump’s failure to make good on a campaign pledge to isolate himself from his business empire, the hiring of lobbyists to his staff and questions about whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, among other examples.

But Trump voters see a swamp that is half-drained by a president whose wealth, they say, prevents him from needing to kowtow to the same corporate interests that hold sway over other politicians. Casciani said he feels Trump is making good headway on his efforts to hold corporate interests accountable. As evidence, he pointed to Joe Rannazzisi, a former Drug Enforcement Administration official who went public with a revelation that the DEA’s efforts to rein in opioids from pharmaceutical companies had been hamstrung by a bill from Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., who at the time was Trump’s pick for the country’s drug czar. After the story broke last month, Trump announced that Marino had withdrawn his name from consideration.

Casciani’s takeaway from the story was that Trump’s actions allowed the DEA to move forward in its efforts to prevent the pharmaceutical companies from flooding the streets of poor neighborhoods with opioids.

Smith, the UNH pollster, said there’s a simple explanation for the vast difference between the way Republicans and Democrats view these events involving Trump: partisanship.

“By and large, these are Republicans, and they’re happy that there’s a Republican in office,” he said. “Cheering your team is a very powerful thing to overcome. It just doesn’t happen. When I talk with my students, when you think about sports, it’s very similar. When Roger Clemens was with the Red Sox, he’s great. When he’s with the Yankees, he’s a ’roid king. We are willing to forgive all sorts of stuff if the person wears our uniform.”

Choice and Media

Business owner Melissa Maranville, 39, voted for Trump for many reasons, including his business credentials and his views on abortion. The Claremont resident spent 15 years working for her father-in-law, former Claremont Councilor A.J. Maranville, in his hobby shop in West Lebanon. After he closed his shop, she decided to open up her own successor store in Claremont: Granite State Hobbies.

She stood behind the counter on Wednesday, motioning at the gleaming white walls lined with models and toys.

“It took 15 gallons of paint and six weeks,” she said.

Maranville said that, as a small-business owner, she is heartened by Trump’s push for tax reform, which she believes will help the economy, and put more money into her pocket. But, she said, the tax cuts should extend beyond corporations and the nation’s wealthiest residents.

“It’s got to be across the board,” she said. “The middle class, everyone.”

Maranville said she believes in the right of a woman to make the decision about whether to have an abortion, particularly in cases of rape.

“It’s my body,” she said. “It should be my choice.”

Maranville said her impression was that Trump’s views on the issue were more in line with her than many in the Republican Party. As a candidate, Trump’s stance on abortion was difficult to pin down — he said some positive things about Planned Parenthood, even as he pledged to appoint judges who opposed abortion rights and said he was pro-life.

Soon after being elected, he signed a ban on federal money that would otherwise go to international groups that perform or provide information on abortions, and in April, he signed legislation that cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform abortions.

Smith said the Granite State Poll demonstrated that voters get their views from different news sources — Trump voters are far more likely to get their news from Fox News than from CNN. Maranville said she’s only vaguely aware of the tsunami of negative news stories that have engulfed Trump since his first days in office. Tuning in is depressing, she said, so she tunes out. And she suspects that a lot of what she sees in the news is inaccurate anyway.

“A lot of them come up with false accusations,” she said.

Maranville said she wishes the media would focus less on Trump’s personal feuds and more on his policies.

“Let’s move on from that,” she said. “There are people dying.”

Cornish’s Spaulding went a step further with his skepticism of the media. “The only way we know if something is true is if he tweets it,” he said of Trump.

Though Spaulding said mainstream media outlets could not be trusted, some of the news stories that he cited as evidence of Democratic Party corruption had little evidence to support them. For example, he said former President Barack Obama purchased a mansion in Saudi Arabia, a story that has been debunked and traced back to a website that identifies itself as a news source but admits in its disclaimer that “some events” and characters in its apparent articles are “fictitious.”

Spaulding, Ray, Casciani and Maranville all said it was important for Trump’s tax reform effort to succeed, but they don’t fault him for his inability to build a coalition that extends beyond his base.

Though Trump appointed conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and Republicans control both the House and the Senate, the president needs more to overcome his opposition, and the key is not in compromise, but in domination, Spaulding said.

The Democrats need to be replaced with Republicans, and the moderate Republicans need to be challenged from the right in their primaries, the Cornish resident asserted.

“If we pick up more seats, things are going to be a lot easier. And I’m sure we will,” Spaulding said. “Come back and see me in another year, after he’s done what he says he’s going to do.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.