Donald Trump regaled a well-heeled New York Republican audience Thursday night as though he’s known them for years. Which he probably has.
With that one rambling, off-the-cuff 27 minute speech, the billionaire businessman showed why he’s drained much of the suspense from Tuesday’s New York GOP primary. Polls show he has more support than John Kasich and Ted Cruz combined.
All three addressed the state’s Republican black tie and gown gala. While Cruz and Kasich explained how they would implement policies to create jobs or improve health care, Trump acted more like a host in his hometown. He spent much of his talk giving a tour of buildings he’s built in the city, including the Grand Hyatt Hotel, where everyone was having dinner.
Trump acted more like a host in his hometown. He spent much of his talk giving a tour of buildings he’s built in the city.
New York City and Donald Trump get along. His signature Trump International Hotel & Tower was a few blocks away. People are accustomed to him and his unpredictable, sometimes uncouth ways, so his style is no surprise in a city where bluntness is often an essential survival tool.
So Trump could say, “Who the hell wants to talk about politics all the time? It’s boring,” and that was fine with the elite GOP audience. “Bring it home, Donald,” someone shouted.
Kate Rolf, a Syracuse, New York, health care executive, found Trump just right for the times. “He does go too far, but he is who he is,” she said. “He’s not politically correct, but political correctness is just out of control.”
I’m so proud to be discussing all sorts of topics, but most of all New York values.
Donald Trump at Thursday’s New York Republican gala
Even Trump skeptics figure they’ve seen him at his best and worst, so if he gets the nomination they hope to see the astute businessman.
Tom Anthony, a Hawthorne, New York, technical consultant, wasn’t quite a Trump backer yet, but he sounded close. “What’s holding me back right now is I can’t tell if his bluster is to get him through the process,” he said. “But his prepared speeches are pretty good.”
Familiarity with Trump, of course, isn’t always an asset. About 100 protesters lined 42nd Street across from the hotel, denouncing him.
Not that they were eager to embrace Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas, or Kasich, the governor of Ohio. The challengers tried to show they, too, loved New York.
“You don’t want to sleep because you’re afraid you’ll miss something,” Kasich said. After a few lines such as that, he went into his standard stump speech about his humble upbringing as “the son of a blue-collar worker.”
Kasich should fit well into the mold of the classic New York Republican, who tends to be fiscally conservative but more moderate on social issues. He has some big name backers here, notably former Gov. George Pataki.
53.8% Donald Trump’s support in latest RealClearPolitics average of New York Republican polls
Knowing Trump well, Pataki said, is a big reason to stay away. “If he’s our nominee, he’s going to drive the Republican Party off a cliff,” Pataki said.
The audience was hardly riveted. It was easy to hear the sounds of clanking plates as people ate their dinners, as well as the nonstop buzz of people talking to one another.
The most animated response came when Kasich warned against Trump or Cruz, without naming them. “You know what will happen if we nominate people who have negatives and cannot beat Hillary?” he asked. Polls and analyses have found that Kasich has the best chance of winning against the former secretary of state.
Cruz has a different problem: His criticism of what he called New York values has come up repeatedly on the campaign trail.
His attempt to offer a light touch got a light response from the audience. “I’ll admit to you I haven’t built many buildings in New York City,” he said, “but I have spent my life defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
He went on, talking about the ills of the Obama administration and reciting his conservative views. “If you care about the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, this election is pivotal,” he said. A handful of people applauded.
More plates clanked. The audience chatter got louder. It was getting harder and harder to hear Cruz.
No surprise there. The latest RealClearPolitics average of New York Republican polls showed Trump ahead of Kasich by 32 percent points. And ahead of Cruz by 36.