Governor’s debate shows GOP is still Trump’s party

Given Donald Trump’s continued entrenchment in the Republican Party, Rep. Lee Zeldin sees fit to taunt his business rival for governor, Harry Wilson, as “Never Trumper.”

This adversary label could be seen as an echo of Trump, although much less personal. If Wilson blows away all expectations on June 28 and wins the desired nomination, he could run in the general election wearing Zeldin’s “Never Trumper” tag as his blue state insignia.

No matter what happens to the lively, high-stakes insurgency hearings underway in Washington, the New York Republican Party organization will continue to embrace the Trump brand, believing it gratifies the GOP base.

That fervent commitment to Trump fans, if not Trump himself, became clear in the opening moments of the four-way Republican debate on WCBS-TV Monday night.

Andrew Giuliani, whose past experience in government consists of patronage work in the Trump White House – thanks to his mentor-father Rudy – praised Trump for “the kind of change he brought to the United States of America We Must Bring to New York.”

Zeldin, the state party organization’s preferred candidate, went with a fleeting defense of Trump on January 6, 2021 as having “told his supporters to leave peacefully and patriotically.” Zeldin also said of his party, “I believe we are fighting for the heart and soul of our country.”

This makes for exciting rhetoric directed at people who are registered as Republicans and therefore eligible to vote. Congresswoman Shirley will worry about the general election later, where whoever wins the nomination will seek to use President Joe Biden‘s weak polls to get the local message across on crime and taxes.

Relatively moderate candidate Rob Astorino, who is selling his past ability to secure Democratic crossover votes in Westchester County, called Jan. 6 a “horrific day” for which Trump bears “some responsibility.” But Astorino was quick to call on everyone to move past him — and toe the party line in dismissing this week’s congressional hearings as mere theater.

Even Wilson avoided the heresy of trying to throw the book at Trump about the insurrection. Prosecutions, Wilson said, should target “people who broke the law by invading the Capitol. Mr. Trump did not invade the Capitol.

In the House, Zeldin has consistently aligned himself with the leadership of the Trump-linked GOP caucus. Zeldin voted against certifying the 2020 electoral votes in Pennsylvania and Arizona — and even opposed a massive bipartisan infrastructure bill later signed by Biden that is worth billions to his state.

But on Monday, Astorino once again listened to his main competitor’s days as state senator from Long Island. In Albany, Zeldin belonged to a Republican caucus with cordial ties to then-Democrat Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. This group gave Astorino little love when he took on Cuomo in 2014.

An irony here is that as a wealthy capitalist with private resources to manage and no government or legislative record to defend, Wilson can take whatever positions he wants – as Trump did in 2016 and as the former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg did so the previous decade.

Obviously, this does not bode well for success, especially in today’s “with us or with them” environment.

The opinions of columnist Dan Janison are his own.

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