The question fascinates us on any subject, but especially our politics.
“What if,” for example, Congressman Jack Quinn faced first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000 after Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s exit from the race for U.S. Senate? With a little money, would he have fared better than Congressman Rick Lazio? And would our Clinton-centric politics of 2015 be changed?
“What if” Attorney General Dennis Vacco accepted the Right to Life line in his oh-so-close re-election loss of 1998 to Eliot Spitzer? Would it have carried him through a race lost by 1.7 votes per election district? And changed the unfortunate course of New York politics?
We can travel down “What If Road” this entire Sunday morning, but we’ll stop just once more to ask “what if” Donald Trump followed through on his 2014 threat to run for governor? Would he have generated the same excitement in SoHo and Schenectady as he is now in Dubuque and Derry?
Trump, you recall, dallied with the idea throughout early 2014. As the party establishment quietly backed Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino (sound familiar?) in the uphill contest against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Trump teased Republican voters as a possible candidate.
“I know Rob Astorino; he’s a nice person. I’ve helped him in the past and I will in the future,” Trump told The Buffalo News in January 2014. “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.”
Like in 2014, The Donald now makes lots of promises with few specifics. Like Astorino or Cuomo, he expresses affection for Jeb Bush and the rest of the GOP gang – he just doesn’t think they’re as good as he is.
And while it never materialized the way local supporters like 2010 gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino and Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy desired – you have to wonder.
Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner might admit to being intrigued, but dismisses any idea of Trump’s national success playing in 2014 New York.
“I just don’t see New York voters ever going with him, even upstate,” Zellner said a few days ago.
Zellner displays his Clinton colors by claiming both Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders are “peaking” and will soon fade away. And 2014? It just wasn’t going to happen against Cuomo, he says.
Langworthy, however, recalls the 650 people greeting Trump for an early 2014 fundraiser at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens – bigger and more enthusiastic than any similar gathering in memory. Trump, he said, attracted faces not seen before or since at GOP events. That sounds familiar, too.
Langworthy may now count himself a supporter of Scott Walker for president, but last year he backed Trump because “I’m a pragmatic guy.” Trump would have proven a “compelling candidate,” he said, because of his now proven ability to draw media attention whenever and wherever.
“I saw a lot of reasons then why he’s surging now,” the chairman said. “And had he run, he would have brought that same excitement to all corners of the state.”
Paladino, meanwhile, recognizes his own 2010 campaign in Trump. He was among a group of statewide Republicans who saw Trump as a GOP savior, and does now, too.
“You’ve got the trade unions, the Steelworkers and the Teamsters all looking to him to bring jobs back to America,” Paladino said. “He’s now talking about alternatives that no one ever thought of before, and actually pulling labor back to where it belongs in the Republican Party.
“His message was my message,” Paladino added. “He is speaking plainly and transparently. And it’s working.”
Neither Paladino nor Langworthy say Trump would have beaten Cuomo in 2014. Three million more Dems than Repubs makes that awfully difficult.
But everybody in New York admits it’s fun to ask, “what if?”