Trump Met With Love, Hostility In The Green Mountain State

Jan 7, 2016

On Thursday night, one of the most conservative candidates in the Republican presidential primary visited one of the most liberal states in the country.

Donald Trump’s brief trip to Burlington, Vermont, made for a raucous political spectacle. And Trump found some love, and lots of hostility, in the state that sent Bernie Sanders to the U.S. Senate.

Vermont’s reputation as one of the most liberal states in the country is well-earned. The state hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential race since George H. W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in 1988. Barack Obama fared better here in 2012 than in any state but Hawaii.

So more than a few eyebrows raised when news arrived on New Year’s Eve that Donald Trump was coming to Burlington's Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. And in a snow-covered park in downtown Burlington, blocks away from where Bernie Sanders announced his presidential bid last May, hundreds of Trump protesters voiced their disdain.

“Here’s a man who represents a rising, racist and fascist movement across the country,” said local Albert Petrarca, who held anti-Trump signs in his hands.

“And it’s the responsibility, in my opinion, of citizens to rise up and meet that challenge and say, ‘That is not the kind of world we want to live in,’” he said.

As protestors inside the Flynn Center repeatedly disrupted Trump's speech, large crowds rallied outside the venue, many holding signs supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR

Inside this blue state, though, are pockets of fire-engine red. And Trump had no trouble filling a 1,400-seat venue with adoring fans.  

“Beautiful. We’re in Vermont, that air is so nice and clean. I‘m breathing so much of that air,” Trump said when he took the stage.

The Trump campaign issued 20,000 free tickets to the event, and turned away non-Trump supporters at the gate, the Burlington Free Press confirmed.

Katina Cummings said she was prevented from entering the Flynn when she said she didn’t support Trump.

"I said, ‘I’m not leaving,’ and they guided me and sort of pushed me out," Cummings said. "And I said, ‘This is a private event, I am not leaving.’ They said, ‘Well, you’ll be arrested.'"

Eager event-goers lined up before dawn on Thursday morning; by mid-afternoon the line stretched southward down Burlington's St. Paul Street.
Credit Angela Evancie / VPR

Dozens of protestors made it past security nonetheless. They rose to disrupt Trump in regular intervals throughout the event. Each time, Trump instructed security to usher them out.

“Yeah, don’t give him his coat. Don’t give him his coat,” Trump told security while they escorted one man out, to laughter from the crowd. “Keep his coat. Confiscate his coat. You know, it’s about 10 degrees below zero outside.”

Trump and his crowd, however, seemed to feed off the protesters’ angry shouts. Vows to construct a wall on the Mexico border played especially well with this fiery crowd. And as President Obama seeks to rally support for his executive orders on guns, Trump made it clear he’d undo those, and institute some of his own.

Wren Keturi, left, Kaitlyn Griffith and Samantha Montgomery rallied with crowds of protesters outside the Flynn on Thursday evening.
Credit Taylor Dobbs / VPR

“I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools – you have to, and on military bases,” he said. “My first day, it gets signed, OK? My first day. There’s no more gun free zones.”

Trump is the third Republican presidential candidate to visit Vermont during the 2016 cycle: John Kasich and Rand Paul have preceded him.

Taylor Dobbs contributed reporting from outside the Flynn Center.