Back on April 19, when Donald Trump scored a lopsided victory in the New York presidential primary, so many things seemed possible.
The Manhattan billionaire had just won the GOP contest with a stunning 61 percent of the vote, sweeping 61 of New York’s 62 counties. Sure, New York bleeds Democratic blue and nobody ever expected a Republican to win here, but his “yuge” win set him on the road to the GOP nomination with an air of unbridled optimism. Maybe, just maybe, he might pull off this thing after all.
But last week’s Siena College poll of New York voters clearly demonstrates how things have changed. It shows Democrat Hillary Clinton ahead by 30 percentage points – a lead that virtually every political observer labels insurmountable.
Unless you’re Carl Paladino, Trump’s New York co-chairman and his most vocal New York cheerleader. Paladino takes his polls on the streets of Democratic South Buffalo or along the mahogany at Potters Field.
“I still see the base as solid, he’s just not building off it,” he said a few days ago. “And I don’t see the polls as legitimately able to determine the crossover vote.”
Paladino believes Trump remains strong in Erie County, and that his problems stem from his own party’s old guard.
“Those Washington establishment Republicans want their piece of Donald Trump,” he said.
Indeed, many of Trump’s myriad problems stem from his own Republicans. Old Guard GOPers like Tony Gioia, the former ambassador to Malta and a major Republican fundraiser, says he wants to back Trump.
“But any time I think I really want to support the guy, he opens his mouth and gets in trouble again,” Gioia said, adding his own diplomatic experience underscored the importance of the American presidency on the world stage. “I do not think Donald Trump would represent that office as he should as leader of the free world. That’s a grave, grave concern.”
The new Siena poll seems to reflect all that. Only 55 percent of New York Republicans support their nominee, compared with 81 percent of Democrats planning to vote for Clinton. And though a Quinnipiac poll showed Trump leading upstate by 12 points (Siena’s June poll showed Clinton leading upstate by 6 points) just a month ago, Siena now shows him trailing upstate by 11 points. He also trails in New York City’s traditionally Republican suburbs by 17 points.
Siena’s Steve Greenberg says the campaign is now fully unfolding; stuff happens (like Trump’s criticism of a Gold Star family). And Trump’s inability to strongly connect with his own Republicans now looms as a major problem.
“We see a significant number of Republicans who are far more uncomfortable with their nominee than Democrats are with theirs,” Greenberg said, noting that Bernie Sanders did well in New York, too, and that many Democrats view Clinton unfavorably. Nevertheless, they remain entrenched in the Clinton camp.
“Are the Democrats united in favor of Hillary or against Trump?” he asked. “It doesn’t matter. They’re united.”
Paladino remains optimistic, and is even working to set up Trump appearances throughout deep blue New York. Trump’s national team, meanwhile, scrambles to get back on track even if campaign reorganization after campaign reorganization seems to go nowhere.
But Trump’s fundamental problem remains in his inability to rally a significant portion of the Republican base that should automatically start with him. Whether or not he is part of the dreaded “Washington establishment Republicans,” people like Gioia have not only voted Republican in the past, they have also helped raise millions of dollars for GOP presidential candidates.
“The State Department inspector general comes out with a scathing report on her use of emails, and what does Donald Trump do but go after a Hispanic judge,” Gioia said. “That’s not the way thoughtful Republicans would want to see the American president behave.”