A question for the pundits insisting the #NewYorkValues fight is a loser for Ted Cruz: Have you ever met a GOP primary voter?
I lived in—and loved—New York City back in my days as a stand-up comic. Donald Trump’s soliloquy on New York’s 9/11 legacy was his best-ever moment as a candidate. He tapped into the “We’re all New Yorkers now” memories, and responding to Cruz’s attack with sentiment instead of snark shows Trump’s becoming a better campaigner.
But emotions pass, while arguments endure. The case has been indelibly and irrevocably made that Donald Trump is, well, Donald Trump: A liberal, big-money, politically wired New York City Republican. (If this were a “Seinfeld” episode, I’d add, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”)
When pundits talk about Trump defying political gravity, they focus on his personality: How does a reality-show loudmouth who uses insults and ludicrous claims lead in the polls? But Cruz’s campaign is focusing on the second and more problematic aspect of Trump’s candidacy: His urban liberalism. Remember the old Pace picante sauce ad? “New York City? Get a rope.” Yeah—it’s that bad.
New York City Is a World Apart
National Review’s Kevin Williamson thinks Cruz’s “sneers” at urban America are political mistake. He argues that big-city voters aren’t so different from the Republican base—or at least they shouldn’t be. “Our cities are disproportionately black, but they are not disproportionately Martian,” Williamson quips.
But for many Americans, particularly rural and suburban GOP primary voters, Manhattan might as well be on Mars. The reasons have nothing to do with race.
In 2015, the average price of a Manhattan apartment—apartment!—was more than $1 million. Imagine how that sounds to a family in Des Moines, where the median household income is $43,000 and a house (nobody in Des Moines buys an apartment) is less than $150,000.
Politically, the divide is even wider. In the first four GOP primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada), Mitt Romney averaged 48 percent of the popular vote against President Obama. In New York City, Romney got a minuscule 18 percent of the vote. In 91 NYC precincts, Mitt got zero votes. Zero.
In New York City, Michael Bloomberg is a “Republican.” In the “SEC Primary” states, he’s a socialist. While Trump may (or may not) be a Bloomberg, he’s certainly no Buckley. In fact, Trump isn’t even a Bob Michel—the sad-sack squish who led the House GOP during their days as the “permanent” minority.
Trump Ain’t No Grassroots Conservative
Trump spent a lifetime supporting abortion and gay marriage. He’s spent a lifetime giving money to far-Left politicians like Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid (and, of course, Bill and Hillary). He’s praised socialized medicine and government confiscation of private property. In the era of small-government conservatism and Tea Party activism, Trump is to the GOP what Morton’s is to animal rights movement.
So why is Trump leading in the polls? In part because the immigration issue is now a proxy for “true conservatism.” Whole-hearted support for border security covers a multitude of sins. Trump has also been helped by conservative anger at the Left’s success in silencing sincere debate, a.k.a. “political correctness.” Trump says things on CNN that Republicans have been sitting in their living rooms yelling at CNN for years.
But while GOP voters may cheer Trump’s brash, New York City style, they simply don’t share his liberal New York City politics. Trump supporters know this, which is why they’ve shifted the conversation away from “conservatism” and towards “populism.” Their argument is that Trump draws from a base of voters who don’t have fixed political views but are instead motivated by cultural resentment—the “outsiders” versus the “insiders.” Forget “fighting for conservative values” (a la Cruz), they just want someone to take the power from “them” and give it to “us.”
The Capital of Crony Capitalism
This is another reason the #NewYorkValues argument is a loser for Trump. New York City isn’t just a bastion of liberalism; it’s America’s capital of crony capitalism. It’s the headquarters of Big Businesses and Big Banks who get Big Bailouts from Big Government while blue-collar America gets Big Bupkis.
And who stands on stage and brags about using his New York money to game the system? “Mister Populist,” Donald J. Trump.
The most effective attack on Trump in last week’s debates came, not from Cruz, but from Carly Fiorina: “We have to end crony capitalism, the crony capitalism that starts with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton sits inside government and rakes in millions handing out access and favors. Donald Trump sits outside government and rakes in billions buying people like Hillary Clinton.”
The Republican nominee won’t be determined by a single hashtag or debate. But if you really think the #NewYorkValues debate is helping Donald Trump, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.