There’s an elephant in the room at the New York State Republican Convention, and it’s not the traditional pachyderm that symbolizes the GOP.
Donald Trump may be far away on his national campaign trail, but he is dominating the buzz of the statewide conclave being held at the Marriott HarborCenter. From hallway banter to formal speeches, Trump overshadows most of the formal convention business Friday, exclipsing even potential gubernatorial candidates and the nomination of Wendy Long to face incumbent Sen. Charles E. Schumer this November.
Carl P. Paladino, who was given time at the podium because he is interested in challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2018, delivered a stinging rebuke to the media, Washington, and the “establishment” while extolling the virtues of Trump.
“It’s about a desperate Washington elite and a media that’s clueless on how to handle this situation,” Paladino told about 300 Republicans gathered from across the state. “He’s awakened America’s middle class; he’s awakened the silent majority.”
Paladino, the 2010 GOP candidate for governor, seemed to elicit some of convention’s loudest cheers as he called on New York Republicans to rally behind Trump.
“To be neutral is cowardly. We don’t have time to be neutral,” he said. “This is a native New Yorker. This is our guy. Stand up.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether Trump’s supporters will muster enough strength to bring an endorsement resolution to the convention floor.
“We’ll see,” state Chairman Edward F. Cox said. “There is great support for a number of candidates. And you can expect there will be a certain momentum to find support for Donald Trump.”
The idea for a convention endorsement, which would surely carry significant national weight, has been floated by various Trump supporters. But they say privately it will only happen if enough support for passage is guaranteed.
Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence, emerging as a national advocate for Trump, also addressed the gathering as one of three speakers invited to speak on behalf of their presidential choice. He tore into Mitt Romney, following the former presidential candidate’s denunciation of Trump on Thursday. He called Romney a “lousy candidate” who has energized the Trump base by speaking for the “establishment.”
“Mitt Romney has engaged the Republican establishment even more,” Collins said. “The Republican establishment does not speak for mainstream Republicans.”
A former supporter of Jeb Bush’s failed presidential bid, Collins said he was naturally attracted to Trump following Bush’s withdrawal from the race.
“I looked to see who was legitimately left standing,” Collins said. “I saw a born leader, a winner, someone with vision. That’s Donald Trump.”
Gordon Humphries, the former senator from New Hampshire, also made a presidential pitch, but he was in praise of John Kasich, pointing to the Ohio governor’s economic accomplishments. He said Kasich is emerging as Trump’s main alternative.
“The dynamic has changed,” Humphries told The Buffalo News. “Marco Rubio was the darling of the establishment but has reached his plateau. John will certainly win Ohio …and the momentum will be in his favor.”
And while no one spoke in favor of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Broome County Chairman Bijoy Datta praised Rubio as mirroring his own family’s immigrant roots and as best equipped to handle national security issues.
“He understands what the threats to our people’s interests are,” he said. “We are less secure than when President Obaama took office and Marco will change that.”
The convention has also served as a bully pulpit for six potential gubernatorial candidates in 2018. All addressed the convention. They included Paladino; businessman Harry Wilson, the 2010 candidate for comptroller; former Pataki administration official John Cahill, the 2014 candidate for attorney general; Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, the 2014 candidae for governor; Rep. Chris Gibson of the Hudson Valley, a decorated Iraq War veteran, and Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro.