By the looks of it, Ted Cruz is not going to fare well in New York on April 19. Coming off a huge win in Wisconsin, Cruz’s momentum will be stopped in a state where Donald Trump was always going to dominate. And of course, Cruz didn’t make it any easier for himself – Trump wasn’t in the state for a millisecond before bringing up his challenger’s “New York values” line from January.
In a debate prior to the Iowa caucuses, Cruz hit Trump for embodying those values, setting the billionaire up for what might have been his single-most brilliant moment in the campaign. In a sober soliloquy, Trump told the audience how the people of New York rallied together in the aftermath of 9/11, drawing an ovation. Cruz, with a frozen smile on his face, appeared to instantly understand that he’d stepped in it.
The exchange didn’t hurt Cruz in Iowa, but he had to know it was going to come back when the campaign moved to New York. Trump has made it a central part of his stump speech, and the media is gleefully defending their city.
“He said New York values are about money and they’re about media,” said reporter Jeffrey Toobin on CNN. “That’s an anti-Semitic trope from a hundred years ago. It’s been around for a very long time.”
On Fox News, Geraldo Rivera agreed. “Aside from the stinking anti-Semitic implications that I see in that whole ‘New York values’ money-and-media coded message that he put out there pandering to those Iowa voters, he also voted against Hurricane Sandy relief,” Rivera told Bill O’Reilly. “He also voted against compensation for 9/11 victims. This is a man whose interests are absolutely antithetical to New York.”
So, it’s not enough to just make it a Cruz vs. New York thing; they have to pretend that Cruz is a closet Jew-hater that is sending dog-whistles to likeminded conservatives. As if there is some documented, longstanding vein of anti-Semitism among Republican voters. As if Israel has any stronger ally in the race than Cruz. As if there is a single person in America who doesn’t know exactly what Cruz meant.
And the idea that people are really offended by this is insulting. If you’re a New York conservative, you know better than anyone what Cruz is talking about. If you’re a New York liberal, you already despised Ted Cruz, so it doesn’t matter.
Unless Trump makes an enormous blunder between now and April 19, Cruz has almost no shot of winning in New York. But that gives him a subtle opportunity that he should take advantage of.
Hillary Clinton is extraordinarily polarizing. Ditto Trump. Now, those familiar with Ted Cruz know that he is polarizing as well. But that’s the thing – he’s not nearly as well known as Trump or Clinton. Many Americans are just now getting to know him. Stuck in a state he can neither abandon nor win, Cruz might be wise to use this time to show how presidential, unifying, positive, and serious he can be. In a year where millions of voters dislike the two big name candidates, the notoriously “unlikable” Cruz could invent a brand new reputation.