During the January 2016 Republican debate, Ted Cruz repeated his claim that Donald Trump possessed “New York values,” that presumably distinguished him from Republican voters in America’s heartland–particularly those in Iowa– where the first actual clash among the candidates would take place. Cruz had been making this claim while campaigning in Iowa and Trump had practiced his rebuttal which he delivered with great effect during the televised debate. Trump declared that New York values were best exemplified by the police and fire fighters of the city on 9-11 and by the rebuilding of the city in the wake of the terror attacks of that day. Trump’s response was widely seen as extremely effective. New York’s democratic mayor hailed Trump for his defense of the city; the New York Daily News urged Cruz to “drop dead,” and Cruz spent the next several days on the talk show circuit explaining what he had meant–usually not a good sign.
What did Cruz mean? Attacks on New York values hark back to the Populist era when, to Midwestern farmers, New York symbolized rapacious capitalists, greedy Jews and contempt for religion. Cruz apparently thought this imagery still had the power to mobilize Iowa voters and we shall see if he is correct. It is worth noting that Cruz hardly seems well positioned to make use of this imagery since his populist credentials seem rather thin. The senator is, after all, a graduate of Princeton and the Harvard Law School; his wife is a partner in a New York investment bank, Goldman-Sachs; and the senator, himself has borrowed money from Goldman’s to finance his campaigns. One wonders if he denounced their values while taking their cash.
Whatever happens in Iowa, it may be that Trump’s defense of New York values may come to have important consequences for the outcome of the 2016 election. Imagine that Trump is the Republican nominee. A few months ago this idea seemed impossible but today seems increasingly likely. Let us consider the electoral map. Currently 18 states which, between them, possess 242 electoral votes, have supported the Democrats in six consecutive presidential and congressional elections. Since only 270 votes are needed to win, these solidly blue states might appear to give the Democrats a substantial edge in presidential contests.
Perhaps significantly, these blue states include at least three where New York values aren’t seen as such a bad thing–Pennsylvania, New Jersey and, of course New York, itself with a total of 63 electoral votes. Trump’s candidacy was always based on the idea that the Donald, unlike conventional Republicans, could put these and other blue states into play in a general election. By anointing Trump as the official defender of New York and its values Senator Cruz has increased this possibility and possibly helped Trump take his New York values into the White House.