Don't Run, Mr. Trump Too Many Snakes in the Elephant Grass By Michael Caputo

An excerpt from Michael Caputo's opening monologue on the February 21, 2014 Tom Bauerle Show on NewsRadio WBEN-AM, Buffalo's talk radio station.


The Trump for Governor draft took off seventy days ago, when a small group of Republicans traveled to New York City to ask businessman Donald Trump to run for governor of New York. That’s important: we asked him, he did not ask us. In fact, when I tried to get the meeting set up, it wasn’t easy. He wasn’t interested. He’d already said no in the media.

Still, Mr. Trump was gracious enough to see this small band of Republican committeemen and elected officials Dec. 4th. He changed his mind right there and said he would consider running if we could clear a path to the nomination without a bruising primary.

That path is now in front of him; the nomination is his for the taking. In reaction, he has said if the Republican Party nominates him as their candidate, he will run and run to win. If he declared his intention to run for Governor, I am here to tell you with great authority that he would have county chair support of 76 percent – the magic number that kills his potential opponent's campaign dead.

Importantly, he’s got time. His likely Republican challenger, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, has been talking about running for Governor for a year and he’s not yet declared. Since Mr. Trump has only been talking about this for 70 days, he’s got plenty of time.

To all the people clamoring for him to get in, or out: that’s silly. Normally, New York candidates for governor never declare before March. Carl Paladino declared on April 5th. Andrew Cuomo didn’t get in until May. Why must Mr. Trump hurry his decision?

But, here’s the problem: As an architect of that path, I do not think he should accept the nomination. The best advice I can give Donald Trump is pretty simple: don’t get in this race.

Running for governor is not worth Donald Trump’s time because the New York Republican Party is too fractured and connected to Andrew Cuomo.

I put 30,000 miles on a car with 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. For months, we endured undermining and downright insulting attacks from New York State Republican Party chairman, Edward Ridley Finch Cox IV. Some county chairs assisted in that treachery.

Carl spent immeasurable energy and millions of dollars defending himself against attacks from Republicans - before he ever got to face Cuomo.

Cox tried to draft a Democrat into the 2010 Republican primary. He failed miserably, then he climbed aboard Rick Lazio’s campaign. From there, he helped Lazio to go down in a record defeat. In the end, 64 percent of New York Republicans voted for Paladino and rebuked the failed state chairman.

But Cox clearly learned nothing from getting his clock cleaned. Four years later, Cox is undermining Donald Trump at every turn and lying about it all the way. He’s using Republican Party resources and piles of his own cash to push Astorino on the 62 Republican county chairmen.

I’ve seen this movie before: soon Cox will pretend to warm to Trump’s candidacy. He’ll make noises about welcoming Trump to the campaign trail. But really Cox will cut Mr. Trump up every chance he gets. When Astorino gets out of the race and Cox boards a Trump bandwagon, his behavior will not improve. He will never be an asset.

The last downstate county executive Edward Ridley Finch Cox IV tried to guide into a statewide race has never been heard from again. Think about it: all the statewide candidates he ever aided have disappeared from public life.

It’s as if the worst diseases of the Mayflower weren’t fatal and remain highly contagious generations later. If he touches you, you die.

Cox is set to similarly poison Astorino’s career. I know Mr. Trump likes the county executive, but Cox has hardened him in place. A politician’s natural instinct is to get out of the way of a well-financed campaign, especially a billionaire’s. But Cox is so averse to a Trump candidacy that he will continue to plead with county chairs, he’ll poison Trump events, feed reporters sour balls, and work every angle to keep Astorino in. Even at Astorino’s great expense.

As a chairman, you don’t have to be smart to stop a winning candidate. You just have to be dumb enough to throw your body down. But there’s more than stupidity going on here.

You see, it’s no longer about Rob Astorino for Edward Ridley Finch Cox IV. It’s about Edward Ridley Finch Cox IV.

Cox can do about as much damage as he can good: very little. He’s a gnat. Still, he will not stop opposing Donald Trump until he is fired as state leader, and there’s no appetite to push him out among those 62 Republican chairmen. Any attempt to fire him would fracture the Trump coalition and hobble Donald Trump’s campaign to beat Cuomo.

Most of the men and women who serve as Republican county chairs are good and honest people. (Actually, all the women are solid. It’s a few of the men you have to watch.) For more than a decade, they have struggled to raise money and committeemen are hard to recruit because Republicans are leaving the state in droves. Electing Republicans has become very difficult.

A county chairman’s job is terribly difficult; that’s why so many have flocked to Donald Trump’s candidacy. In Trump they see a possibility to shift the paradigm, raise money for campaigns, recruit new faces to the party and maybe win statewide races again. At the January 30 Buffalo event, the local party broke all attendance records and raised a pot of cash for local campaigns. That’s huge – and something Rob Astorino cannot do.

Above all, the majority of chairs believe Mr. Trump can beat Cuomo. Without Donald Trump, they know we can’t. And that’s a cold hard fact.

Most important: the chairs don’t see another opportunity like this coming anytime soon.

In the short time since he expressed an interest in the governor’s race, Donald Trump has met with over 1,000 New York Republicans. He’s met face-to-face with 50 of the 62 chairs, and not just for a moment – he’s talked with them for hours.

In fact, Donald Trump has engaged more Republicans in person in 70 days than Rob Astorino has since November. The reason: Astorino doesn’t draw a crowd. Think about it: that’s at the core of the problem he’ll have drawing the voters he needs to win. He’s just not interesting enough.

That’s not an insult: Very few are.

Also in that mix: Mr. Trump has likely met with 30 times the number of Independent, Democrat and blank voters than Rob Astorino has in the same period. Heck, he did that at one event here in Buffalo - and each one of them paid between $100 and $500 for the opportunity.

In these early days, Mr. Trump has already met almost all the Republican county chairs who sandbagged Paladino in 2010. They’ve pledged their support to Trump, and some of them are serious.

Others will stab him in the back, cut a deal with Cox or Cuomo and take what they can get. A few will "lay down," as we say in campaign world, and do nothing for Mr. Trump all the way to Election Day. They will lie to his face the whole time and secretly work for Cuomo because they make money off his governorship.

Here’s what laying down is: In a county where a Republican needs 100,000 votes to win statewide, Trump will mysteriously get only 50,000 because the local party leader won’t lift a finger to help. And nobody will know until November 5th because the chairman will lie through his teeth.

Donald Trump is the only potential candidate who truly threatens Cuomo, so the Governor is already working hard through his pet Republicans to stop him. He’s sent emissaries to Trump Tower to talk him out of it. Some are Republicans hiding their loyalty to Andrew Cuomo.

In the weeks leading up to the Republican convention, Cuomo will turn up the heat. Think about it: the Governor will gladly spend a million dollars behind the scenes, thinking he can save twenty times that if he knocks Trump out before May. If he runs against Trump, he’ll have to raise twice the money as he shows in the bank now. If he runs against Astorino, he doesn’t have to raise another dime.

A lot of Cuomo’s effort will go into fomenting subterfuge in the GOP. He has the ability to turn the party inside out with cynical manipulation - and he will. Expect his Republican legislative allies to toss monkey wrenches into the mix. They already are. With Cox slithering in the background, Astorino may resist reasonable requests to step aside. The Governor will urge that on. Astorino will become a problem, even though if he’s nominated he won’t raise more than $6 million and he’ll hand Cuomo a landslide victory.

Rob Astorino’s gift to America will be presidential candidate Andrew Cuomo.

This week, Astorino started attacking Donald Trump, breaking a gentleman’s truce that neither one would disparage the other. That’s what we Republicans call Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.

Who knew the ego that would get in the way here would be Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s?

Some cynical Republicans are working closely with the Astorino camp in this new campaign of insults and looking for some cheap publicity of their own.

Luckily, as WBEN listeners heard yesterday, Donald Trump is not taking that bait. He’ll take the high road, while Astorino and his allies fire at him from far out of range. Several county chairmen have called me to say they are very grateful Trump’s being gracious. They don’t want the war Ed Cox and Rob Astorino are starting.

Still, at the end of the early May Republican convention I believe Mr. Trump would have the nomination and no primary challengers. But with a party too weak at the top to hold the line, it’s just not a billionaire’s bet.

Andrew Cuomo has been an ineffective governor, but he is a vicious predatory candidate. The Governor has no boundaries; he makes Chris Christie look like Pollyanna. So taking him on with a weak party behind you becomes a harder slog.

Cuomo is only comfortable when his opponents are bleeding profusely. I watched as he came at Carl Paladino from all angles: first through his surrogates, then through his aides. Then directly. When Carl challenged Cuomo, he sent reporters to tear him apart. When Carl didn’t go down, Cuomo and his allies viciously attacked his family and even frightened his children.

One thing is for sure: If Andrew Cuomo thinks he can out-vicious Donald Trump, I think he’ll be plenty surprised. 

Still, I’m convinced Mr. Trump should not run for governor. Not unless he loves New York more than his business, more than his fabulous life and the 20 remarkable projects he has on the horizon. 

As for Rob Astorino: what does he have to lose? Politics is all he’s got and he clearly wants more of it. And, for what it's worth, he has Chairman Edward Ridley Finch Cox IV behind him. Just running for governor of New York is a huge promotion for a county politician. Not so much for a wildly successful billionaire known worldwide.

But if Donald Trump has that fire in his belly, there were more than enough Republican county chairmen in his office last week to usher Rob Astorino right out of the race. They have pledged to lock shields with the New York City billionaire for a world-class campaign of epic proportions.

When it comes to running for office, I can do just about anything. But I can’t make Donald Trump’s decision for him. Because it’s a really big one.

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