Peter King was chatting with a reporter in the lobby of downtown’s Courtyard Marriott Hotel a few days ago when a traveling NYPD officer cut into the conversation.
“I’m a sergeant in the city,” the visitor said while extending his hand to the Republican congressman from Long Island. “I recognize your voice from Fox.”
You don’t have to hail from downstate to recognize the gravelly inflections of Queens-raised King. Since his election to the House of Representatives in 1992, King has morphed into a television ubiquity. Fox News seeks him out. So does CNN. He’s a regular with MSNBC’s Joe and Mika.
So the Politics Column scored a print/web coup by stealing him from the cameras last week. King joined Clarence Congressman Chris Collins, with whom he appeared at two earlier events, to review the issues of the day. And that boils down to one name – Donald Trump.
King said he voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the April 19 presidential primary, but it appears he is now recognizing reality. On Primary Day he said he would take cyanide if Sen. Ted Cruz won the GOP nomination.
“If it comes down between Trump and Cruz, I’ll definitely endorse Trump. There are some issues I have to resolve, but I’ve been in contact,” he said. “I just think Ted Cruz is a fraud. I don’t trust him. He’s one guy who either brings out the worst or the best in me.”
Collins, a vocal Trump supporter, played his tag-team part with King while homing in on Trump. He said Trump will win Erie County – a bold prediction since no Republican has won here since Richard Nixon in the landslide of 1972.
“No two ways about it,” he said. “Trump will thump Hillary upstate.”
King also allows for Trump success in his Nassau and Suffolk home turf. But New York City’s five boroughs, he acknowledges, inject a dose of reality.
“He’s going to win Staten Island,” he said. “But the other four? That’s going to be tough.”
Over the years, King has carved out a tough-guy reputation on homeland security. Maybe that stems from losing so many constituents in the World Trade Center. So the former chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security speaks with authority on such issues. Would he trust Trump’s finger on the “button”?
“The answer is yes,” he said. “But I think he’ll be more effective when he can fill in the substance. Certainly his head and heart are in the right place.”
Trump attempted to establish a foreign policy base in a Wednesday speech, just as critics and allies alike have demanded. While King appears to be drifting toward him, he wants to see more.
“It’s there for him to do it,” he said. “If he can fight through the argument; if he can fill in more of the gaps and put together a really coherent campaign.
“Because the negatives against Trump are that he shouts too loud or doesn’t know the details,” King added. “Well, if he can show he knows the details, he can overcome that.”
Nary a poll in the land shows Trump beating Hillary Clinton. But November lies far in the future. And King thinks Trump’s chances lie not so much in campaigning against Clinton, but against President Obama. That’s why 75 percent of the Republicans in his 2nd Congressional District, he said, voted for Trump.
“It’s probably due to President Obama; he’s created a vacuum that Donald Trump can fill,” he said. “Many people feel that President Obama has been apologizing for America. People have legitimate concerns – elitist attitudes that the liberals have and they feel left out.”
Collins and King discussing Trump and the 2016 election represent a perfect pair to study. Collins started as a big-time Jeb Bush supporter; even threw him a local fundraiser. King voted for Kasich. Now Collins leads the local charge for Trump. King appears not far behind.
Collins predicts inconceivable things like Democratic Erie County voting for Trump. Sounds wacky.
Then again – who thought the Donald would get this far?