The Curious Case of John Kasich, and Manhattan: A Small Rejection of Donald Trump, and Embrace of Partial Moderatism

The Curious Case of John Kasich, and Manhattan: A Small Rejection of Donald Trump, and Embrace of Partial Moderatism

Editor's Note: Hi everyone, please welcome Zach, a new TPV blogger. Zach approached me a few weeks ago with an interest to write, and he has a background in history. Bringing new talent onto the scene is one thing we do, and Zach is a great addition to the team. - Spandan

If you take a look at the map of Republican primary results from last Tuesday’s vote in New York what you’ll notice among a sea of bright red Donald Trump victories is a small, thin, blue oddity. 

John Kasich’s victory in Manhattan was small, unexpected, and will not change the race in any real meaningful way, but it does point to an interesting aspect of the Republican electorate, as well as raising a few questions about the transition of a party away from its past, and its embrace of new values. In order to get a better sense of this victory let’s take a look at a few of these questions, and some interesting aspects of New York Republicanism.

With basically all of the rest of New York falling in line with Mr.Trump, a die hard New Yorker, and a simple counterpoint to the runner up, Senator Ted Cruz, whose social conservatism and heavy religious affiliations don’t vibe well with the more middle of the road fiscal conservatives in the Empire State. It then seems odd that the heart of New York City, the financial capital of the country, and most iconic portion of the entire state wouldn’t fall that way as well. Especially considering that all of the cities surrounding burrows went for for Mr. Trump; with him winning Staten Island, a notoriously conservative area within a liberal enclave, with an astounding 82% of the vote.

The first important point to recognize is that in New York City specifically, members of the GOP make up a significant minority compared to their left leaning counterparts. Taking a look at the vote totals for the two races we see that the total vote count for the GOP was around 400,000. Compare this to the nearly 900,000 votes cast for the Democratic primary, and you begin to get a sense of just how few republicans there are left in the city proper. Because of this minority an interesting phenomena has occurred, where those few republican voters suddenly make up a superior enclave of electoral power. With those votes concentrated in such a central area they have the power to swing elections towards a particular candidate much more efficiently.

Scott Detrow of NPR reported on this phenomenon recently by following around a tiny group of Republicans in the Bronx. In his reporting he explains that “New York State divides up the bulk of its 95 convention delegates by congressional district. Each one awards three — even heavily, heavily Democratic districts like the Bronx-based 15th, where Democrats outnumber Republican 19-to-1.” In this way the republicans in New York become super voters, awarding delegates to their respective candidates well in excess of their actual voting totals. 

Keeping in mind this minority’s power to easily swing the vote one way or another there’s another factor at play here which would motivate those Manhattan republicans to sway that vote far away from Mr. Trump. Donald Trump has done himself no favors in attracting the vote of the Manhattan establishment. Most recently after announcing his candidacy Mr. Trump surged to the top of the polls in part by capitalizing on the publics, sometimes justified, and some times irrational, anti-Wall Street idealism, much in the same way Senator Bernie Sanders has capitalized on these public fears. One of Mr. Trump’s claims to fame in this election cycle is that he is self funding his own campaign, and he says himself, that because of this he has no need for the funding efforts of the New York elite. However many of those people see the narrative a bit differently. "Wall Street hates him because he is a class traitor," Greg Valliere, a chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group, told CNN in 2015, going on to explain how Trump’s populist rhetoric has attacked Wall Street and turned them away from him. 

However, Manhattan’s animosity toward Donald Trump goes back long before the businessman decided he wanted to become president. His reputation in that town is one of a shoddy opportunist, known to force his way into places where he isn’t aways wanted, and try to influence operations that he has nothing to do with. There was fierce opposition to his attempts to influence NBC, and other networks to move to a property he was building on the Upper West Side. 

He also has a reputation for destroying the more historic portions of the city in order to advance his business. In 1997 when Mr. Trump was considering converting the historic St. Moritz Hotel in to luxury condos the New York Times ran a story about the local community board fighting vigorously to stop him. ''He already destroyed the old Commodore Hotel and made it into that hideous Grand Hyatt, which is a glass building, and I just couldn't stand the idea of this happening again,’’, one Mr. Michael Gotkin, a consultant for the Landmark West, an Upper West Side preservation group,  told the newspaper at the time.

By having a general idea of why Manhattan republicans wouldn’t vote for Donald Trump the next logical question is, well, why would they vote for John Kasich. It’s already an apparent fact that Ted Cruz, the second place contestant in the race, had no chance in New York, the Republicans in the state just aren’t his kind of people, and there was no possible way he could have won the kind of victories he did in the west, the demographics didn’t line up. But the case for Gov. Kasich’s win is far more than just “He wasn’t Donald Trump, and he wasn’t Ted Cruz.” 

Simply put John Kasich is a model conservative. He is a by the books classic republican, he’s fiscally conservative, a supporter of small government, a business leader, an executive by way of the Ohio state house, and doesn’t pay to much mind to issues of social conservatism, or religious identity, at least in his appeal to voters; and all of those aspects attract that same kind of classic republican which comes out of Manhattan. But most importantly Mr. Kasich is a at least a partial moderate voice in a field crowed with fringe candidates. Governor Kasich stands on the very tail end of the this movement of moderate conservatism, and definitely doesn’t fit in with their original views of the 1970’s, where many republicans promoted ideas which for the time would have been considered socially or domestically liberal, but now in an era where being even the slightest bit moderate, or compromise-able will have you labeled as a ‘Republican in name only’, and constantly harassed by the Tea Party, and the “Hell No” Caucus, as was the case with Speaker John Boehner, the moderate views of Mr. Kasich brightly stand out.

This moderate stance has been highlighted continually by the Governor. Mr. Kasich has set himself up to court moderates in a way no other presidential candidate has, going even farther than the previously labeled ‘middle of the road’ Jeb Bush had during his campaign. As he has traveled around the country his stump speeches have been filled with pro-business, anti-divisive rhetoric aimed at primarily bringing to his side voters who couldn’t see themselves courting the extremity that has been cooked up by Donald Trump. 

The two candidates have sparred on broad republican topics like free trade, which Gov. Kasich has supported since his years in Congress. “I’ve always been a fair trader and a free trader at the same time, 38 million Americans have jobs that are connected to trade. So we do want to have free trade.” is what he told John Dickerson of CBS’s Face the Nation in March. Mr. Trump for his part has been vehemently opposed to trade deals, as he cites them for costing the United States jobs. 

Mr. Kasich has also been quick to criticize his opponent on immigration, while infamously, at least by republican standards, supporting some vague path for immigrants to stay in the country. “We have 11 and a half million people here. If they have not committed a crime since they've been here, make them pay a fine & back taxes, and give them a path to legalization, never to citizenship. It is not going to happen that we're going to run around and try to drag 11 and a half million people out of their homes.” is how he framed the issue in the February Republican debate in South Carolina. The strange framing of the issue as “legalization not citizenship” aside this stance has stood in sharp contrast to Donald Trump’s views of immediately forcing eleven million back over the border.

The key to this strategy has been the fact that while Mr. Kasich has emphasized his more centrist ideas during this campaign he has sharply downplayed his much more conservative views. Most infamously on abortion where he has worked tirelessly for the elimination of planned parenthood in Ohio, and is ardently pro-life, and anti-abortion. Also to the candidates determent he has heavily walked back many of his most moderate views which would have cost him votes in a Republican electorate. Despite being one of the only Republican governor to agree with the Affordable Care Act, and expand Medicaid in Ohio he has almost completely divorced himself from his previous support for the president’s plan.

This brand of moderate conservatism that Mr. Kasich has built his campaign to emphasize is almost all but absent in New York now; while the state is still nowhere near as conservative as other parts of the country, as was shown with Mr. Trump’s sweeping victory on Tuesday the voters in that state no longer seem to value attributes such as executive experience, coupled with small government moderatism. None the less the governor's appeal to voters is that he is not as extreme as Donald Trump, and has supported business, and the broad economy far more than any of his other opponents. To voters specifically in Manhattan this is the kind of appeal they want, a candidate who will hold firm to the conservative values they subscribe to, while at the same time not ripping the world apart. Which, in a real sense is the essence of conservatism which Mr. Kasich seemingly represents to a small swath of New York voters: the status quo above all else. 

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