It can be lonely being a Donald Trump supporter in blue New Haven. Just ask Erin Reilly.
Reilly wanted to put a Trump sticker on her car. Then she thought better of it. Given the reactions she gets when people learn she’s supporting the Republican presidential nominee, she figured someone would “trash” her vehicle.
But that didn’t stop Reilly from joining an exclusive club: New Haven Trump donors.
It’s hard to find a visible Trump supporter not only in person in New Haven, but in campaign records. A review of individual donations to Trump’s federal campaign committees processed by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) shows Reilly, a self-employed financial planner, is one of at least four people in New Haven contributing to Trump in the most recent fundraising cycle—with a total of four separate contributions summing $500.
Reilly donated $150 of that total on June 14, 2016. Of the three other New Haven Trump contributors besides Reilly, two are listed as retired, and one is listed as a property manager. City Properties LLC manager Edward Lockery donated $50 on June 22, 2016. Eric Palmer, retired, made one donation of $200 on Sept. 12, 2015. Daniel Keirstead, Sr., also retired, made one donation of $100 on June 25, 2016.
Reilly provided the Independent with receipts for several other smaller donations she had made to the committee, which were not recorded on the FEC database. A spokesperson for the FEC could not say exactly why this was the case, or whether it meant other New Haven Trump donors were missing from the dataset.
A broader search of fundraising committees connected to organizations bearing Trump’s name uncovered another nine New Haven donors, who didn’t necessarily target their dollars to The Donald. Of those, one contributed to a related joint fundraising committee called “Trump Make America Great Again.” The rest contributed to the Connecticut Republican Party, which is connected to a joint fundraising committee called “Trump Victory.”
For comparison, a search on the FEC database shows 183 people in New Haven contributing to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. They made 914 contributions totaling $200,921.
The Clinton donors listed include prominent Yale professors, city officials and community leaders, including John Bradley, CEO of Liberty Community Services, Emily Byrne, of the Housing Authority of New Haven, and Audrey Tyson, who was a Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
Look through the New Haven and Connecticut Trump and Clinton datasets, downloaded from this section of the FEC site. (Committees must submit a list of contributions that exceed $200, on reports to the FEC, said Julia Queen, FEC public affairs specialist. They are not required to disclose information for a contributor who has given less than $200, unless that contributor’s total sum of donations exceed that number. Some choose to disclose all contributions.)
Reilly, who is 52 years old, lives on Quinnipiac Avenue near the North Haven line. Unlike the local Clinton donors, she doesn’t exactly get high-fives from her neighbors.
She recalled descending the staircase after a rally at Hartford’s Convention Center in April to face hundreds of jeering protesters “screaming profanities” against Trump supporters.
That, she said, is one of the difficulties of being a Trump supporter in such a blue city and state. “They say Trump is preaching hate. The only hate I see is directed at me,” she said.
Trump moves forward in this national election followed by a long trail of controversies — including verbal attacks on women, Mexican immigrants, the sitting president and a military family—some of which drew equal-opportunity ire from both Democrats and Republicans.
According to Reilly, New Haven’s Trump supporters are hiding. Accused of being racists and misogynists, they’re in the closet, she said. But everywhere she goes, she meets someone who shares her views.
Reilly said she has also lost friends through her vocal support of Trump in person and on social media. Often, her detractors don’t want to talk through the issues, she said. “Instead it’s just screaming things and cursing. You can’t even have an intellectual discussion with someone that’s just screaming at you. You end up just un-friending them. I’m not going to get abused if you’re not willing to have a conversation to get where our interests are.”
Pro-Nationalist, Pro-Small Business
Last June, Reilly was skeptical of, yet fascinated by, the corporate mogul running for president against a slate of political elites. She watched on television as he announced his decision to throw his hat into the ring and she felt “kind of amazed at what he was saying.” She considers herself a “nationalist,” not a “globalist,” and she sees that mirrored in Trump’s politics.
In that speech, he painted a picture of a United States being “beaten” by China in trade, Japan in manufacturing, and Mexico at the border. He promised to use his experience as a businessman to bring jobs back home from those countries, in part by heavily taxing foreign imports. “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems,” Trump said, foregrounding a row of American flags at a podium at Trump Towers in New York.
Some thought Trump was blowing smoke. Not Reilly. She said she realized that every time he would highlight an issue relating to foreign policy or national security, a major event would happen that seemed to back up his claim.
In that same speech, Trump promised to build a wall along the border with Mexico and force the Mexican government to pay for its construction. He called undocumented Mexican immigrants “rapists,” who were bringing drugs and crime into the United States.
Less than a month later, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez was arrested for shooting Kate Steinle in San Francisco. Lopez-Sanchez was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico who had been deported five times, and had been federally imprisoned for illegally returning to the U.S. and for drug charges. He was later convicted of second-degree murder.
Reilly took that as a sign that Trump was onto something. “I started listening to what he was saying,” she said.
As a small business owner, she distrusts big government. She is an independently contracted financial planner who owns her own business—and said corporate regulations stifle her growth. Requiring small companies to pay a minimum wage of $15 to full-time employees, regardless of merit or skill, is a bad idea, she said.
“It’s frustrating to see someone make more money because they were there longer. They may not be doing as good a job and make more money because they were there longer. It doesn’t make any sense. That’s where government fails,” she said.
She can’t afford to hire an assistant to help her pare down mountains of paperwork, because she can’t pay for their healthcare and benefits.
As a businessman, Trump will know how to cut waste in the public sector, Reilly said. He would surround himself with successful people in his cabinet, to learn what he doesn’t know.
So she donated $150 to his campaign in June. Before that, she had given smaller donations, around $50, and bought Trump swag—including T-shirts, hats and signs—from the candidate’s online store. She knew Trump didn’t need her money, she said. At first, “I was like, ‘Why would you give money to a billionaire?’”
Reilly portrayed her financial support as more of a gesture than a necessary action to get Trump elected. She has been registered Republican for years and voted for the last two Republican presidential candidates. (She also voted for Democratic U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro “every time.”)
But federal political candidates for both major parties seemed “like they were both sides of the same coin. It just seemed corrupt and crooked. It kind of didn’t matter who you were getting,” she said. Trump restored her faith in politics.
Far From “Trump Or Bust”
Filtering for Trump-affiliated committees also netted people in New Haven who donated money to the Connecticut Republican Party—whether or not they actually support Trump.
Connecticut’s is one of 11 state party committees under a joint fundraising committee named “Trump Victory,” which Trump established in May with the Republican National Committee.
(Clinton’s joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee is called “Hillary Victory Fund” and includes 32 state Democratic party committees.)
Retired investment advisor and local philanthropist William Curran donated $2,750 to the Connecticut Republican Party in two contributions dated this and last May as well as $750 to a joint fundraising committee called “Trump Make America Great Again” in two donations this past June, according to the database. He was the only person in New Haven to contribute to that committee between April and June, an itemized list of individual contributions shows. (Reilly sent over a receipt showing she contributed $184 to the same committee in early August, not yet processed by the FEC.)
Curran contributes money to various causes around the city. He won an Arts Council award in 2013 for his support of local arts organizations. He has also donated to the Independent.
Trump has not been friendly to mainstream media organizations, kicking the media out of his rallies and banning some outlets from covering him on the campaign trail. But that’s to be expected, Curran said: “The press has been so anti-Trump.”
Unlike Reilly, Curran is not necessarily gung-ho about the candidate. Trump was not his top choice when he had a full gamut of Republican politicians on the primary election menu. His top choice, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, dropped out in February. His next choice, Florida U.S. Sen., Marco Rubio, lasted a bit longer, throwing in the towel in March.
“We’re left with Trump,” Curran said. Trump, and not Clinton, is more likely to institute House Speaker Paul Ryan’s economic plan to scale back government regulation—a plan Curran said will spark economic growth.
Current President Barack Obama “has heaped on regulations that have made starting a business difficult,” Curran said. He predicted Clinton would be more of the same. “The classic economics 101 says that decreasing corporate tax rates has very beneficial effects. Hillary [Clinton] plans to increase those taxes. We’re not going to get any growth with her.”
When asked how or whether he has been personally affected by Obama’s policies, Curran said he hates to see “people struggling for their existence,” as he has seen for the past eight years under Obama.
New Haven is not a city teeming with economic conservatives, Curran said. “I feel that’s the price you pay” for living here.
Others who donated to the Connecticut Republican Party were quick to distance themselves from Trump.
Chris DePino, the former chairman of the party, said he contributed $275 to the committee last June because “party fundraising is important. I do what I can for the Connecticut Republican Party. I feel connected to their message.”
Trump was not a factor. “I wasn’t thinking about Trump when I made my donation,” he said. He donated during a state party dinner.
DePino, who runs a lobbying firm and is an international harmonica performer and recording artist, said he’s “not jumping and up and down about Trump.” In fact, he may not even vote Republican this presidential election. “I haven’t made up my mind who I’m going to vote for,” he said. No third parties for DePino—he’ll head to the ballots to choose between Clinton and Trump. “Throughout my entire political life, I’ve been a bipartisan Republican,” he said.
Lawyer Mark Shiffrin made sure this reporter knew his contribution to the Connecticut Republican Party was “not a Trump campaign contribution.” He contributed to the Republican party, not to Trump.
When asked flat out whether he supported Trump, Shiffrin said: “I’m not endorsing candidates in the New Haven Independent.”
An “Outsider,” A “Patriot”
Reilly is encouraged by the fact that Trump is getting major backlash from Republicans and Democrats alike for the way he’s running his campaign.
“I think they’re corrupt,” she said of establishment Republicans. “He’s talking about doing away with the lobbyists, where you’re controlled by lobbyists, where big corporations and special interests will give to a representative’s campaign.”
For that reason, she said, she would have voted for former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “What you’re seeing with Trump supporters is what you saw with Bernie supporters—anti-establishment,” she said. If Sanders had beat Clinton in the primary, she would vote for Trump, because she favors small government. But she would be at peace knowing either candidate would do a good job.
“But Hillary? No, I can’t. We can’t have more of the same. It’s just not working,” she said.
Reilly said she doesn’t agree with Trump on everything, but she also doesn’t think of him as racist or sexist. She said that when Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” he was talking about the coyote smugglers who bring desperate people over the border and sometimes take advantage of them. She knows many women who support him, who are active on a private pro-Trump Facebook group she helps run.
Trump is a “complete outsider” who has enough money that he’s “not running ... because he needs the money or the power. He’s got that stuff. From what I’ve seen for the last 30 years, he’s a patriot. He loves this country. He always has. I believe that he’s sincere and he’s genuine about that,” Reilly said.
The 41 percent of voters supporting Trump across the country are characterized by political analysts as largely financially insecure white people who feel left out of traditional politics.
Sometimes they’re people who long for the days of a fiscally conservative, less regulated federal government, and know Trump is the only real path there at this point in the election.
Not all supporters contribute to a campaign. In the end, all that matters is whether they vote. Reilly said confidently that there are many more than a handful of Trump supporters in New Haven. Democrats have to stop screaming long enough to listen.