Republican Tim Howard is the Sheriff of Erie County, New York and recently won re-election in a county with twice as many Democrats as Republicans.
I join a growing number of New Yorkers who are concerned about the future of this state: we tax the most, we’re the worst place to do business and our biggest export is our children and grandchildren. Worse, Governor Andrew Cuomo has moved to curtail our Second Amendment rights.
I agree with many of my friends and colleagues who strongly believe Gov. Cuomo must be defeated in November. Additionally, as a Republican elected official, many of us also agree we must cast the net wider for a candidate who can beat him.
That’s why I traveled with several of my western New York GOP colleagues to meet with Donald Trump. I wanted to look him in the eye and see if he was serious about running for Governor of New York.
(Spoiler alert: he is.)
In a whirlwind daytrip to Manhattan Friday, I joined a group of 50 Republican leaders in Trump Tower, overlooking Central Park from 25 floors up. Among us were many Republican County chairmen from across the state – 13 to be exact – and a dozen elected officials. All of us came to size up Mr. Trump.
The media has covered our meeting exhaustively, so I won’t rehash their stories. But they missed something truly important while focused on the politics of the day: the singular nature of the meeting.
I’m the Erie County Sheriff; our hands are full. But I felt compelled to travel to New York City at my own expense to try to save our state. At Buffalo-Niagara Airport, I met up with five more worried Republicans traveling on their own steam. At our appointed time in the Trump Tower lobby, I was impressed to see our crowd grow quickly. By the time Mr. Trump and his family joined us in his massive conference room, our group had swelled to almost tenfold.
Think about that: Mr. Trump simply opened his door to discuss his potential candidacy and 50 ranking Republicans made their own way to a standing room only meeting in his conference room. As he introduced his wife and children, I knew I was a part of a unique and perhaps historic morning.
I’ve checked around a bit and I think this meeting may be the only one of its kind in recent New York political history – a group of partisans from all walks of life, few who even knew each other, gathered to gauge a major newcomer to a vital race.
For most of us in the room, it wasn’t about party politics - it was about the future of our state. The discussion focused on jobs and the economy but we bounced around to taxes, natural gas development, infrastructure issues, and the state of our prisons and hospitals. I was pleased to discover Mr. Trump is a strong defender of our Second Amendment rights – and his two boys are firearms enthusiasts.
I was particularly struck by the direct questions asked and surprised by how refreshingly candid and genuine Mr. Trump and his family were in a group of allied strangers. I imagined how motivating it would be to give millions of New Yorkers a chance to get to know him this way, too. It would be a game changer.
Since 2010 – and maybe before – New Yorkers have been resigned to the rule of Andrew Cuomo. Until Mr. Trump started considering the race just two months ago, I rarely met a Republican hopeful for Cuomo's defeat in 2014. When we left after two hours of frank discussion, all 50 of the GOP guests agreed: Mr. Trump is real, he is smart, he has resources, and we should strongly, seriously and fairly consider his candidacy.
Imagine the local impact when Mr. Trump headlines county party fundraisers across New York. And I can only speak for myself, but I think that if he runs, he can win.
In the wake of this remarkable morning, I’ve seen a great deal of political scrambling going on and I understand there is a small group of statewide Republican Party leaders developing a strategy to keep Mr. Trump out of the race. I must say: I’m stunned by this news and I don’t understand it. What kind of political calculus must one do to conclude it's smart to rebuff a self-funding billionaire candidate with universal name ID and rock-ribbed Republican values?
I know one thing: I wouldn’t want to be the person who goes down in history as the Republican who turned away Donald Trump and hastened the decline of the party in New York State. Republicans are being offered a game-changer. Let’s take it.