The Debate’s New York Moment and Why It Doesn’t Matter
When Ted Cruz made his “New York Values” comment, something that every conservative American living in fly-over country understood clearly, Donald Trump threw a “below the belt” punch by grabbing onto New York’s shining moment in the wake of 9/11. Pundits were quick to award that “point” to Trump, and some – including Charles Krauthammer, with whom I usually agree – were quick to suggest that this “point” will last far longer than other debating points.
"I thought that was the moment of the debate," Krauthammer said. "That was a moment where Trump clearly had won. Cruz, the main challenger, had lost. And that alters the calculus of the whole evening."
Krauthammer went on to say that this point would linger in memory, defining the election contest between Trump and Cruz well beyond the end of this debate.
They are wrong, and are wrong for a lot of reasons. Three in particular are relevant.
Conservatives and 9/11: First, it won’t take Americans long to see through Trump’s zinger of a response – they know what real “New York Values” are, and they’ve got nothing to do with 9/11.
The Media and 9/11: Next, in this post-MTV age of 24-7 news cycles and quick-cut news stories, no single story has much in the way of shelf life. The media will see that the 9/11 zinger will be moved aside by other, more “breaking” news.
Trump and 9/11: Finally, they are wrong because of Donald Trump himself. He will change the subject, leaving 9/11 where it belongs – in our hallowed memory, but not in the internecine squabble that has become the Republican primary season.
Conservatives and 9/11 – America Knows Better
When it comes to the difference between 9/11 and New York Values, America’s conservative voters know better.
They know that, for a brief time in the aftermath of 9/11, all Americans were New Yorkers. Not because we shared New York Values – we don’t – but because in the face of 3,000 murdered Americans, we all stood as one, united against terror. In that momentary unity, NYC’s brave first responders stood as the undying symbol of our unity.
At that moment, Americans loved and honored the incredibly brave and self-sacrificing men and women – first responders who dashed courageously into the burning, collapsing World Trade Center buildings, racing to coordinate evacuations that saved thousands of lives, but – in too many cases – cost them their own lives.
Yet that brave response has nothing to do with any political sense of what comprises “New York Values.” Those big-city, big-government values are defined by the people New York elected in the aftermath of 9/11. People like Mayors Bloomberg and de Blasio, Senator Clinton and Governor Cuomo. These people, and the things they stand for, define New York Values.
These men and women – all elected by wide margins – stand for high taxes and intrusive government. They stand for on-demand abortion – even partial-birth abortion – as well as confiscatory gun control. They advocate for an isolation of Christianity even while they demand we kow-tow to Muslim “victims,” lest we be considered “Islamophobes.” These elected icons of New York Values stand for unrestrained and unofficial immigration – for the United Nations, not the United States.
That’s what Ted Cruz was talking about. Despite his carefully-orchestrated comments, Donald Trump knows this. But so does every conservative primary voter in fly-over country.
That is one reason why this debate zinger won’t have the legs that Dr. Krauthammer suggests.
The Media and 9/11 – The Media Can’t Help But Change the Subject
As one trained in a pre-Woodward/Bernstein journalism school, it is frankly amazing to have watched a weekly news cycle turned into a 24/7 news cycle. We can thank Ted Turner for this – his iconic CNN and CNN Headline News together transformed the way America received news. However, his transformation was changed again by MTV, with its focus on rapid-fire quick-cuts, seeming to shorten America’s attention span. The advent of the Internet, of news bloggers and the Drudge Report, and of RSS feeds that push the latest breaking news right into your computer or phone, all added to the transitory nature of today’s news.
However, regardless of the reason, today’s news media cannot “rest” on its laurels for more than a day. No matter how compelling today’s story has become, by tomorrow it will be on the back burner, and one day later, it will be gone. You can “Google” a story – if you can remember it – but nobody on cable, nobody at the newspapers and nobody on the online ‘zines – will be talking about it.
Which means that, in the face of conservative American voters knowing the truth – regardless of how Trump spins it – the only way for this story to remain “current,” and to continue to injure Cruz – is for Trump to keep flogging the story. Yet with Donald Trump, it seems he always has something new to flog.
Trump and 9/11 – Trump Will Change the Subject
Never has a candidate done so well for so long by changing the subject so often. Every time Donald Trump sees any kind of slippage in his poll numbers – or even a shift in media focus away from him – The Donald has been quick to come up with a new way to change the subject. It seems he will say almost anything to focus positive attention on him and – when appropriate – to shine a negative light on his current-target opponent.
Specifically, he likes to change the subject to focus on the opponent who attacked him most recently.
That is why Ted Cruz is facing his own “birther” brouhaha right now. In focusing on Senator Cruz’s Canadian birthplace non-issue, Trump has already begun to move away from his 9/11 zinger comments. By this time next week, he will have found something else to speak about outrageously.
It will be up to him to keep that 9/11 zinger alive, yet nothing in Trump’s performance to date suggests that he’ll do that. He seems to favor a new attack, a new target, a new off-the-wall comment or issue that he can ride for a day or two, before shifting targets once again.
Trump, New York and the National Election
If he’s still in the campaign when New York has its primary on April 19th, Trump will win his home state. Yet regardless of who wins the Republican nomination – even if Donald Trump is the Republican candidate – ultra-liberal New York is unlikely to go “Republican.” So, if Ted Cruz is to become the Republican candidate, he would have no real chance of winning New York. Making those the “New York Values” comments did nothing to diminish a chance of success that is already hovering around zero.
New York is the state that elected Hillary Clinton as Senator, twice, and New York City elected both Bloomberg and de Blasio. The people in New York who voted for Cuomo for Governor, Clinton for Senator and both Bloomberg and de Blasio for Mayor are not likely to vote for a Republican, not even Trump.
Which means there is no sustaining or compelling reason to keep flogging the 9/11 response to “New York Values.” Trump can’t win New York in the general election on the back of Cruz’s comments, and if Trump is still in the primary race on April 19th, when New York votes, he will win no matter what Cruz does.
So, based on the upcoming elections in the state of New York, Ted Cruz had no down-side in focusing on Trump’s “New York Values.” The people who will vote Republican in states the GOP might actually carry – the fly-over states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire, South Carolina and the SEC “Super Tuesday” states – really do understand what Cruz meant by “New York Values.”
More important, they are likely to share those views.
Ned Barnett is a long-time political campaign consultant; however, his day job has him offering public relations, market research and marketing communications services to a select group of clients. He is also an adjunct professor in PR and Marketing, and the author of a dozen published books on marketing communications. He served as Communications Director for the Nevada Republican Party in 2010, at the height of the Tea Party movement. He has worked as media and strategy director for three state-level presidential campaigns, beginning with Gerald Ford – where he worked with the late Lee Atwater. He was economic speechwriter for the first South Carolina Republican governor since Reconstruction, a man who later served in Reagan’s cabinet. He now owns Barnett Marketing Communications, a marketing and communications consultancy in Las Vegas, and is working on a book on how to win political campaigns.