Opinion

Trump’s New York City victory should reshape urban Republican thought

By Joe Borelli |  

April 24, 2016 |  

As the clear hometown favorite, Donald Trump’s victory on Tuesday night was unsurprising to most people tracking the polls and news leading up to the New York primary. However, one thing should stand out as exceptional to anyone following New York City politics – Trump won in every geographic area and demographic category except one: ultra-high-income whites in Manhattan.

Granted there were no indications that members of the “wine and brie” set of the Upper East Side were going to support Trump, despite him being one of America’s wealthiest citizens and running in the same social circles. In fact, much of the #nevertrump rhetoric around the country likely comes from or is heavily influenced by the members of this caste. This group, perhaps more than any other, represents the old guard of white-shoe Republicans and Beltway insiders, whom the modern GOP must no longer let dominate.

The Trump coalition that led to victory in New York City represents more of the big-tent Republicanism of the 1980s: people linked by a basic shared ideology and aversion to modern urban progressive thought. Trump won among every ethnic group, in every outer-borough corner of the city. Outside of Manhattan, he also won across all income levels.

While results should clearly serve as a guide to the New York City Republican Party, it must also pilot Republicans in elected office in major municipalities around the country with similar social and ethnic diversity.

The New York City GOP will likely never make any inroads into hipster Brooklyn, and I imagine our conservative brethren in San Francisco would have similar results in the Haight. But all cities have pockets of conservative-minded people that are not on board with the new wave of big-city progressivism.

The Republican Party must look at urban dwellers in terms of ideology and life goals, rather than ethnicity and income. Let the left be the side that operates under the assumption that different ethnic communities will vote in like-minded blocs if a handful of community leaders are on board. There is likely more that connects two people who think alike and seek common outcomes for their families than separates them because of skin color, neighborhood or wealth.

What united a broad spectrum of GOP voters to Donald Trump was his plainspoken discussion of their concerns and his direct appeal to their middle-class values, and not pandering to different ethnicities. If you need proof, compare his approach with that of Ted Cruz.

It’s easy to imagine someone on the Cruz campaign saying, “We need the support of Hispanics, so let’s have Ted visit a Dominican restaurant in the Bronx.” The obvious thought was that being seen in that way at that location would help bring the support of a large voting bloc. This is a standard move from a playbook that hasn’t gotten Republican candidates much traction in the cities. To his credit, Cruz did well with many Jewish voters, but it was likely because of his staunchly pro-Israel stance, rather than his rolling matzos for the cameras.

Donald Trump’s approach across the entire country has been much different. For all the talk of his lack of specific policies, his campaign events all seem to follow the same format: the candidate talking directly and unbridled to the American voters, with few retail photo ops. His supporters don’t care which pizzeria is his favorite.

So whom was Trump talking to in neighborhoods not traditionally associated with Republican politics? It was likely the homeowners, veterans, small business owners and those that support proactive policing in their communities. These individuals are found scattered across each and every ethnic neighborhood and are natural Republicans, whether or not they are registered.

These subsets of people are largely left out of what Democrats would consider its urban agenda. In southern Queens, for example, Trump won solidly in the predominantly owner-occupied neighborhoods of Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rosedale, despite different racial demographics in each. In those areas, “affordable housing” conversations often revolve around high property taxes and utilities, rather than public housing.

Donald Trump has also been a vocal proponent of business, proposing, among other things, a flat 15 percent tax on corporations. Policies like that are unsurprisingly popular in the small business community, as are many traditional Republican tax reductions. However, the GOP has done a poor job marrying that fact with the unprecedented growth of minority- and immigrant-owned businesses.

In an era where data drives so much of politics, Republicans have failed to capitalize on the fact that immigrants own 18 percent of businesses in the United States. When we focus on our major cities, a Fiscal Policy Institute study reported that immigrants own 64 percent of businesses in L.A., 56 percent in D.C., and 54 percent here in New York. The Republican Party can’t grow unless it explains to both immigrant and non-immigrant owners why it is the right party for them.

The Trump victory in New York City proved that a middle-class message could transcend previous misconceptions and bring the party beyond its traditional base and stereotyped demographics. The GOP at large would be well served to follow suit.

Joe Borelli is a New York City Councilman for the 51st Council District in Staten Island.

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