One would think that, after Sept. 11, 2001, it would be hard to get political traction by attacking “New York values.” In the days after 9/11, the resilient and often heroic response of New Yorkers to the catastrophic terror attack proved that, even in the nation’s largest and most diverse city, the noble values of community, compassion and sacrifice are alive and well.
That has not deterred Texas Sen. Ted Cruz from trying to brand New York real estate tycoon as the embodiment of New York values — and Cruz does not mean it as a compliment. In attack ads, debates and speeches on the campaign trail, Cruz is telling conservative voters in Iowa that Trump, the New Yorker, holds views that are alien to theirs.
Pushed to delineate New York values, Cruz has said he means “socially liberal,” supportive of gay marriage and abortion and obsessive about money and media. That description could, of course, apply to most of urban America, including the senator’s hometown of Houston, but conservative politicians have, for decades, chosen to pretend that New York City is an outlier, a place apart from the rest of the United States.
Does this hoary canard still have any potency, especially among evangelicals and traditionalists in the rural reaches of Iowa? Logically, it should because proving that Trump openly espoused socially liberal views not that long ago is easy. He did it in front of TV cameras, so there is no way to dispute where he once stood. Logic, though, seems to have been suspended for the 2016 campaign.
Trump’s impressive ability to slough off his own contradictions and boldly deny obvious obfuscations defies logic. Rather than kindling distrust or second thoughts among his supporters, Trump’s refusal to be bound by obvious facts has endeared him all the more to people drawn to a candidate who does not back down and does not apologize. As Trump famously said a few days ago, he could gun down someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and his voters would still love him. I have no doubt Trump is right (especially if he shot one of those New York liberals) and that suggests his weirdly mesmerized followers are not going to be influenced by Cruz’s New York City slam. Instead, Cruz is seeing his best shot at early victory slipping away.
Iowa was where the superior Cruz ground game was expected to dominate when Republicans troop to the caucuses next Monday. Trump, however, now has a substantial lead in state polls and, if his people show up at the caucuses in the same proportion, he should come out on top. If he is victorious, the win will in no small part be attributable to the New Yorker’s ability to seize the news cycle every few days with some new stunt or statement that smothers any message Cruz or the other candidates are trying to deliver.
Trump’s latest ploy is to drop out of Thursday’s debate on Fox News. It is a brash move that seems risky in conventional political terms. However, in a year when free media count for more than anything, picking a fight with Fox News boss Roger Ailes and tweeting a string of insults directed at the debate anchor Megyn Kelly, has gotten Trump nearly nonstop coverage on the cable news channels — including Fox.
Cruz is right; Trump is a true son of New York City. But the particular New York values he exhibits — an in-your-face attitude, nimbleness in a fight and, most of all, media savvy — do not seem to be hurting him one bit.