“New York values” got a lot of love from Republicans in New York City on Thursday night.
All three Republican presidential hopefuls attended the New York State Republican Gala, a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for the state GOP. It took place just days before New York’s primary, which comes amid an unusually contentious campaign for the nomination.
How one views “New York values” has been a point of contention between Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. That phrase first came up early this year, when Cruz launched an ad shortly before the Iowa caucuses painting Trump as a liberal New Yorker.
As he took the stage at the Grand Hyatt New York hotel in midtown Manhattan, Trump leaned in.
“I want to just talk just for a second about New York values,” he said.
Trump offered what felt like a love letter to the city. He mentioned the 9/11 terrorist attacks several times.
“The firefighters and first responders, and the police officers, and the Port Authority workers who ran up those stairs — those are New York values and those are New Yorkers’ values,” Trump said.
Cruz, meanwhile, had only kind words for New York and instead went after his favorite target: Washington, D.C.
“New York City is hallowed ground. It is the site of the worst terrorist attack on United States soil, and yet in the 15 years since 9/11, many in Washington have forgotten,” Cruz said, going on to criticize Obama administration policies on terrorism.
Trump is polling way ahead of his rivals going into Tuesday’s primary. He’s hoping to sweep New York’s 95 delegates. Cruz is trailing far behind Trump and a few points behind Ohio Gov. John Kasich in most state polls. Both Cruz and Kasich are hoping to pick up delegates next week — and make it harder for Trump to get the 1,237 needed to lock down the nomination.
Kasich also praised New York City as a favorite vacation spot for his family. He told Republicans here that both of his rivals are too divisive to succeed in a general election.
“If you feed on the negative attitudes of people, you’re gonna have high negative ratings,” Kasich said. “Go and try to sell something when people don’t like you, and when they don’t trust you.”
Overall, it felt like Trump’s night. He recalled highlights of his career as a real estate developer — including buying and renovating the very hotel where he was speaking.
“It turned out to be a great business, No. 1, and it turned out to be a great, great success as a hotel,” he said.
Armando Casillas, an insurance adjustor from New York City, says that’s part of why Trump has his vote.
“I mean, look at the size of this place,” he said, gesturing to the ornate ceiling above him. “You know how hard it is to build anything in Manhattan? He did it, though, so he has a lot of merit to it. I hope he uses the same merit to run the country.”
Trump spoke first and got the warmest reception from the room, filled with key Republican leaders and donors. Cruz and Kasich had to talk over the clinking of silverware and chattering of the audience while dinner was being served.
Though Trump had many fans in the audience, some leading New York Republicans seemed careful to remain neutral. Asked for his thoughts on Trump, state GOP Chairman Ed Cox demurred: “I love all our candidates.”
Rob Astorino, the Republican Westchester County executive and a 2014 gubernatorial candidate, said he’s not planning to endorse anyone, but will support the nominee. Astorino dismissed Trump’s contention that the process is “rigged” and the GOP establishment is trying to steal the nomination from him through a contested convention.
“Whoever the candidate is has to close the deal,” Astorino said. “Everyone’s had the same rules. All 17 that started had the same rules to play with. And so those that understand them better are going out and getting delegates.”
The toughest crowd, though, was outside, where hundreds of protesters chanted “Racist Trump out!” and carried anti-Trump signs — a reminder that even in his hometown, Trump’s crowds aren’t always friendly.
WNYC reporter Stephen Nessen contributed to this report.