Dissecting the strategies of a statewide race around an exquisite oak table is exactly the kind of political scene you might envision involving a top Republican like Donald J. Trump, especially when he's mulling a challenge to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
But when the conversation takes place thousands of feet above New York State, aboard what he proudly calls “the world's most luxurious airplane,” you get a sense of just how unique this campaign might be. Not since fellow billionaire Nelson A. Rockefeller half a century ago has any New York pol traveled in such style – and no one has had such celebrity aura.
So during a Friday afternoon interview with The Buffalo News aboard Trump's $100 million Boeing 757 en route from New York to Buffalo, the Manhattan real estate mogul laid down his conditions in the clearest language yet.
He pronounced it must be him and him alone to represent the New York GOP this year.
That means not only no primary against a potential Republican challenger like Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, but no preliminaries either. No wooing county chairmen. No building support for a state convention. No convention floor fight to gain enough votes to avoid a primary.
It's either total party unity in the next few weeks behind a Trump candidacy, or it all belongs to Astorino to challenge an overwhelming favorite like Cuomo.
“If he wants to run or somebody else wants to run, that's fine,” Trump told The News. “They would be doing me a favor; my life becomes simpler.
“If he announces, I wish him luck,” he added.
Trump's comments, made about two hours before he addressed some 600 supporters during an Erie County Republican fundraiser at Salvatore's Italian Gardens, further solidify the ground rules surrounding his potential candidacy. Republicans must recognize that he and only he sports the universal name recognition and a multi-billion fortune needed to dethrone a well financed governor riding high in the polls in an overwhelmingly Democratic state.
And if Astorino backs off? Even when practically every political observer in New York pooh-poohs Trump trading “Celebrity Apprentice” and his glitzy lifestyle for such pedestrian digs as the Governor's Mansion?
His answer is clear.
“I would absolutely do it,” he said.
While Trump continues to praise Astorino, he seems to be warning the state party – and Chairman Edward F. Cox in particular – that New York Republicans will face disaster any other way.
That's because if Cox and company shun him in favor of Astorino, Buffalo developer Carl P. Paladino asserts he will seek the Conservative line and virtually guarantee a second term for the incumbent by splitting the Cuomo opposition vote.
“I think he's a terrific guy, and a guy who's been totally misunderstood,” Trump said of Paladino. “And he's not looking out for himself, he's looking to the good of the state.”
Cox, who attended the Salvatore's event Friday evening and has clearly favored Astorino, continues to feel the brunt of Trump's barbs. From his customary luxury seat around a small meeting table, glancing occasionally at the snowy landscape below, Trump on Friday dialed up his criticism of the chairman.
“He's a nice guy, but he hasn't won anything,” he said, adding Cox is pushing Astorino because “he doesn't know any better.”
“You'll never see him in a plane like this,” he said of Cox.
So Trump in essence is inviting Cox to either climb aboard the Trump bandwagon – or in this case, the Trump 757 – or face what he calls an inevitable pummeling. Ditto for Astorino.
“I know Rob Astorino; he's a nice person. I've helped him in the past and I will in the future,” he said. “But it's a fool's errand. It's not going to happen.
“This could be the Republicans' last chance,” he said, referring to the New York GOP. “If they want to go in unified, fine. And if not, fine. I have a very nice life.”
Trump has no problem dwelling on that “very nice life.” Watching a golf tournament on the 57-inch screen stretching across mid-cabin, he casually drops the fact he has won a string of club championships.
“I'm a good golfer,” he said.
But he also thinks the opulence that surrounds him could prove his point.
“People want to see success; I would like to show my financial statement,” he said. “I'm one of those guys who says let's make a lot of money so we don't have to cut, even though I know that last part doesn't sound very Republican.”
The potential candidate dismissed Cuomo's claims of a looming $2 billion budget surplus as deceiving because it is slated for several years in the future and subject to changes. But he has yet to spell out specifics of how he would govern in Albany, though he hints it is all coming.
“I would say something only if I go further,” he said. “I get along with him fine.
“I know Andrew very well,” he added, “and I understand Andrew.”
Trump accuses the governor of only recently paying attention to Western New York despite the “Billion for Buffalo” program and efforts to develop the waterfront and Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. And he ridiculed the state plan to lure jobs and high-tech industry to a new industrial park on the site of Republic Steel.
“They have no money; it's going to be another Solyndra,” he said of the companies moving to Buffalo and a failed high-tech investment of the Obama administration.
Trump he said he will have no problem concentrating on upstate's gritty cities, farms and even wilderness should he become governor.
“I love it. I think it's great,” he said of campaign tedium. “If I didn't like it, I wouldn't do it.”
But he can now be no more clear in his desire for a direct path to the nomination. It is now executive fiat, Trump style. And while he doesn't say it, it's also clear why and how he makes such pronouncements.
Because he can.