For all his bombast and bravado, Donald Trump may have turned to a kinder and gentler page Thursday while addressing the New York Republican Party’s gala at Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt Hotel.
With Sen. Ted Cruz attending the same glitzy affair, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination avoided his usual harsh rhetoric to counter his rival’s criticism of “New York values” as the embodiment of liberal politics.
Instead, Trump concentrated on his own interpretation of New York values – the kind exhibited throughout the terrorist attacks of 2001.
“In our darkest hours, as a city, we showed the world the very, very best,” he said, pointing to the hundreds of police and firefighters who died attempting to rescue victims in the World Trade Center.
“Those are New York values,” he added.
After months of harsh rhetoric and inciting controversy in practically every speech, Trump acknowledged in an interview with The Buffalo News late Friday that he may be about to adopt the “presidential” demeanor demanded by critics and supporters alike.
“At the right time I will make that pivot,” he said in the telephone interview. “I think I started to make it. You saw that last night.”
Trump has rocketed to the top of the Republican polls and leads the race for the GOP nomination even after managing to alienate all kinds of people throughout the nation. He labeled illegal Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” disparaged several women, questioned whether Sen. John McCain is a war hero and even entered a flap with Pope Francis.
After every controversy, however, Trump’s popularity never wavered among Republican voters who rejected the political status quo. In fact, he now comfortably leads all polls leading to New York’s primary Tuesday, when 95 convention delegates will be at stake.
He explained his strategy in the interview.
“Don’t forget, I had 17 people that I had to defeat. Now it’s down to two,” he said. “I was being hit from every angle, and I couldn’t necessarily be very nice.”
Trump expects a loftier approach will prove easy if he gains the nomination, certainly easier than the combative mode of his effort to date.
“Right now, we’re showing a lot of energy and a lot of toughness. Sometimes it doesn’t sound as presidential,” he acknowledged. “But believe me, it’s easier than doing what you’re talking about. It’s essentially easier. Less energy involved.”
Trump will culminate his New York campaign at a rally in Buffalo’s First Niagara Center, scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday. He has attracted crowds of more than 10,000 people over the past two weeks on Long Island, in Rochester, Rome and Albany.
He spoke to The News on Friday just before addressing another crowd of over 10,000 people in Hartford, Conn., and seemed to draw on the energy of the cheering supporters audible in the background.
“Somebody else would have a few hundred. I have thousands,” he said. “The people outside? They’re going wild.”
The Manhattan billionaire said he is drawing the kind of crowds that his rivals only dream about because his message centers around jobs.
When he addresses the Buffalo crowd expected to top 19,000 on Monday, he said he will outline an economic plan centering around tax reductions and business-friendly programs to revitalize job-starved places like upstate New York.
“The biggest thing we’re going to offer is jobs,” he said. “The economy is going to prosper. I’m giving everybody a huge tax reduction, also to business because the businesses are dying. That’s one of the reasons they’re moving out of the country. So you’re going to see business flourish in Buffalo and the State of New York.
“New York has been devastated by the people that are leaving; the companies that are leaving,” he added.
Short on specifics, for sure. But he said his plans to dismantle trade agreements like NAFTA will go a long way toward accomplishing his goals.
“NAFTA is a disaster. We’re going to renegotiate or get rid of it,” he said. “It’s a one-way street out of the United States. It’s one of the dumbest deals I’ve ever seen, unless you happen to be in Mexico.”
Other candidates in the race have supported international trade pacts as a way of lowering consumer costs and even expanding jobs in some domestic industries. But Trump has made his opposition to the agreements one of the centerpieces of his campaign because he views domestic job creation as the primary benefit.
“We’re going to make product in the United States again,” he said. “And you know what? Maybe the product will be a little more expensive, but we’re going to have jobs. Nobody ever mentions the second part.”
And Trump said the idea of creating jobs will dominate his speech in Buffalo, because he believes upstate to be among the hardest hit areas by trade agreements.
“I went to Albany, Rochester, Rome...I was in Plattsburgh. You have to see these places. They’re being emptied out. It’s ridiculous,” he said. “And it’s all because of stupid trade deals, stupid politicians.
“If a company wants to move to Mexico from Buffalo because they’re getting all sorts of advantages, and if they think they’re going to take their product and sell it back into our country with no tax, they can forget about it,” he added.
Though he did not specifically mention New York State’s “Buffalo Billion” program or state subsidies to projects like SolarCity in Buffalo, he does not favor the approach.
“We’re going to bring business back. Real business,” he said. “Not where government gives hundreds of millions and millions in subsidy to a business in Buffalo. That will end up never working out. We’re going to do a real job.”
He also looked back two years on his attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills, which he now acknowledges was “half hearted.” He posed questions about the team, expressed faith in the progress of quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and pronounced Rex Ryan “a great coach” and Terry Pegula “a great owner.”
But he admits it would be difficult to run his own business empire, own an NFL team, and run for president at the same time.
“You know, I bid on it, but I knew I would be doing this,” he said. “I’ve got enough on my hands.”
Trump’s appearance in Buffalo will cap an intense two-week effort that took him around upstate and throughout New York City. He said he is looking forward to speaking in First Niagara Center before voters go to the polls on Tuesday.
“We’re going to have a big crowd in Buffalo. The last stop – 20,000 in Albany. They have a great stadium there, I was surprised,” he said. “It’s really going to be great. I look forward to Buffalo. I love Buffalo.”