It was o
n January 12, during a rally in New Hampshire, when Ted Cruz uttered that fateful comment, so offensive to residents of The Empire State. Donald Trump had been taunting Cruz about a bogus citizenship issue by playing Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” at Trump rallies. Cruz countered by suggesting that Trump should be playing “New York, New York,” since he embodies New York values.
Two nights later, during the debate in South Carolina, Cruz was asked about that comment, and explained that he had not intended to disparage the people of New York, but was referring to the extreme liberal values prevalent in New York City. Trump could have defended his liberal positions during that debate, as he did in a 1999 interview with Tim Russert, when he acknowledged that his left-leaning views were shaped by New York’s environment.
But that would not have been smart on a Republican debate stage. Instead, Trump decided to exploit the deep emotions of a tragic event by pivoting to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the courageous response by the city’s emergency personnel and its citizens.
It was clearly a calculated and cynical reply to an anticipated question, and he used it repeatedly during the days following the debate. A couple of days later, he posted a photo of the 9/11 aftermath on his twitter account, asking, “Is this the New York that Ted Cruz is talking about and demeaning?” During a speech in Albany, again invoking the 9/11 attack, he described how “this character… with distain and actually with hatred…knocked pretty viciously New York values.” He repeated essentially the same characterization in Suffolk County. In Syracuse, he told the audience that Ted Cruz does not like them, and does not like New York.
While some might argue that Cruz’s original comment could be construed as divisive, it’s clear he was merely stating the obvious, repeating what Trump, himself, acknowledged in 1999. Most would agree that today’s America is a deeply divided country, racially, economically, ethnically, and especially politically. When analysts predict national elections, they turn to a tri-color map of the country, a patchwork of red, blue, and purple states.
No one can question where New York stands on the political spectrum. The last time New York voted for a Republican President was in 1984, more than 30 years ago. Both NY senators are liberal Democrats. The Governor of New York and Mayor of NYC are liberal Democrats. A former liberal Senator from New York is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee. New York is as blue as it gets.
Prior to Trump’s campaign, those colors have always been irrelevant on issues of terrorism against Americans. Though the city of New York was hardest hit in 2001, hundreds of Americans also died in Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. Thousands more could have died. It was an attack on the American homeland. It united all Americans against a common enemy. But instead of treating that day with the reverence it deserves, Trump has decided to employ it as a political tool against his opponent.
Donald Trump likes to embellish his rhetoric with bombastic attacks against his rivals. A lot of people like his style. But if they listened carefully to his deceptive characterization of Cruz’s comments, they would see which candidacy is really based on deception and disdain. Trump’s callous exploitation of an American tragedy reveals that, contrary to his claims, he is a politician - a politician of the worst kind, one who would deceive, divide, incite, and exploit, all for a few votes. And it was all for nothing.
Trump’s victory in The Empire State has always been predestined, partly because he calls it home, but mostly because he is the very embodiment of liberal New York values.