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For every opinionated person, there is a season on Massachusetts call-in radio. And with the presidential primary coming up Tuesday, the AM side of the dial is awash in politics.
Gary, calling in from his truck: “Nobody has been able to lay a fing-ah on Trump!”
Matt, calling from a car: “I think Trump’s going to come out on top, and I can’t wait to see him destroy Hillary Clinton.”
Donald, calling from, er, the jumbo jet? “I see that Marco went around a little bit crazy today with his sweaty palms and sweaty face.”
That’s right, Donald Trump called into rush-hour talk radio, chatting with local conservative host Howie Carr the Friday before the primary. And he did so in the patois of a rabid Boston sports fan. He trashed his opponents, he groaned over past losses (“Mitt failed; he should have won that race easily”) and he hyped the state’s golden boy: “Tom Brady likes me and I like Tom Brady . . . In that area, it definitely helps.”
It doesn’t hurt. A recent poll from Emerson College had Trump at 50 percent among registered Republicans. (Only 11 percent of the state’s voters are registered Republicans.) Taxachusetts, the state that brought you pointy-headed liberals such as Michael Dukakis, where towns ban the sale of plastic-bottled water and the Saturday morning farmers markets are regularly enlivened by antiwar protests, looks like it’s about to have a GOP primary that will be a cakewalk for Trump.
Massachusetts has never been as liberal as portrayed; it has a long history of electing Republicans to statewide office (Scott Brown, William Weld). But its favorite Republicans have generally been moderates. Take the current Republican governor, Charlie Baker: a centrist, pragmatic manager type, known for working just as well with Democrats as with his own party. And he has the highest approval rating of any governor in the country: 74 percent.
So why has Trump found so much traction here? Possibly because no presidential candidate has so perfectly channeled the voice and spirit of a loudmouthed Massachusetts sports fan calling into WEEI to tell the world what’s what.
“People follow politics in this state like they follow the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics,” said Geoff Diehl, a state representative and the first elected official in Massachusetts to endorse Trump. “More than anything else, voters here want to know a politician is a fighter and that he has their back.”
Go to Mul’s Diner — an old, low-slung greasy spoon in South Boston — at 7:30 on a Friday morning and you’ll find the place packed with folks looking for just that kind of pugilist.
Norm Decoteau, a thickset man with a camouflague hat and a handlebar mustache, asserts that Trump might be “an idiot, but he’s smart enough to bring good people under him.”
Because of that, and because he is willing to say and do what no one else will, “Trump’s the one guy who can get us back on the right track,” Decoteau said, his friends nodding along. “And oh, God, if it’s Bernie Sanders, none of us are going to be able to afford breakfast, even here.” (A workingman’s special at Mul’s consists of three eggs, home fries, sausage and coffee for $4.95.)
“I like Trump, I like his hairdo,” said Michael O’Sullivan, 52, just off the electric company’s night shift. He took off his Patriots hat to showcase his curly mullet. “He’s always got a smokeshow chick by his side. I’m glad Obama is going to be gone. If I had to look at his wife anymore . . .”
These men don’t necessarily have a filter. But Shawn Gouker, 34, a cable guy working two other jobs to stay financially afloat, said he doesn’t have time to worry about what’s going to bother people.
“I like that Trump offends people,” he said. “In 2015, everyone got offended by everything. We’ve become a nation of pansies — no offense.”
These voters don’t care that the Boston Globe recently ran an editorial entitled “Massachusetts Must Stop Donald Trump” or that Gov. Baker said he was “unlikely” to vote for Trump; they’re not even troubled by their own doubts that Trump can fulfill his promises. All that matters is that, for the first time in memory, a candidate is speaking their language.
The Massachusetts dynamic has some Democrats a bit worried. The state offers the most Super Tuesday delegates outside the South, and if Trump pulls large numbers of independent and blue-collar voters into the primary — not to mention people who typically don’t vote — it could foreshadow some real general-election strength.
Consider Wally Day, a 61-year-old automation technician with a salt-and-pepper beard and a Red Sox jersey under his Patriots ski jacket. He came to the Trump field office in Easton, Mass., to volunteer the Saturday before the primary. The last time he cast a ballot for anyone, he was 18 and voting for Richard M. Nixon, who won every state except Massachusetts. It all seemed like a waste of time to Day — until now.
“It’s not that I know exactly what he’ll do, it’s that he’s such a straight shooter that I know how he’ll do it,” he said. “Plus, it will be entertaining.”
Trump’s presence is not universally welcomed in the commonwealth. A few weeks ago someone vandalized the Littleton headquarters, spray-painting “Nazi Pig” across the walls and windows. “It just ended up being incredible publicity for the office,” said Dean Cavaretta, the campaign’s state director.
More recently, former U.S. senator Scott Brown, an early Trump endorser, came by the office to pump up supporters.
“I don’t agree with him on everything,” Brown said. “I don’t, I’m just telling you. But it doesn’t matter.”
“Let’s see what he does with Hillary,” someone in the crowd shouted.
“Let’s take the primaries first,” Brown responded. Later, he added: “To win Massachusetts would be pretty historic . . . Let’s take this one and we’ll be back in the general.”
Trump probably won’t be back. What Republican would waste time in Massachusetts ahead of a general election? Even Donald Trump isn’t that crazy. Is he?