Dan Janison has been a reporter at Newsday since 1997.
If nothing else, the events of the past 48 hours show how facts and positions can melt in the hot frenzy of the New York primaries.
Hillary Clinton came through Long Island on Monday, stressing the need to stem gun violence. At a stop in Port Washington, she argued: “The highest per capita number of those guns that end up committing crimes in New York come from Vermont.”
Of course, that’s the state her rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders, represents. Her claim wasn’t factually false, just slightly contrived. The “per capita” uses Vermont’s relatively small population to magnify the role of weapons coming in from its green terrain.
Other states send more, according to the same body of federal figures.
Consider this: In 2014, 55 firearms recovered by authorities in New York were recorded as traced to Vermont. But another 395 were traced to Virginia, where the governor these days is Terry McAuliffe, a close Clinton ally who chaired her 2008 campaign for president.
Earlier this year, McAuliffe signed a compromise gun-control bill that the father of one local victim condemned as “a political deal with the gun lobby.” Whatever the true merits of the new Virginia law, you can be sure the Clintons won’t single him out for criticism.
The strategy is clear enough — to punch a hole in Sanders’ progressivism.
At the same time, Republican front-runner Donald Trump went on Manhattan-based Fox News to bewail his party’s nomination process as “rigged” and “crooked” — after rival Ted Cruz took all of Colorado’s 34 delegates over the weekend.
Somebody might have told him party politics is all about tricky rules and intrigue. Trump even brags about how he works business rules to his competitive advantage. When challenged in a debate in October over filing bankruptcy for several of his companies, the candidate said he wouldn’t apologize because what he did was legal.
“I’ve done it four times,” he said. “I’m glad I did it. I used the laws of the country to my benefit. I’m sorry,” he said.
Maybe Cruz could say the same thing if he wins the nomination.
Cruz entered the state’s primary race after attacking Trump as embodying undefined “New York values.” So he’s been looking to dig his way out. To do so, he offered a whack at liberal Democrats, Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, and so on.
Some Long Island Republicans bent on a GOP victory in Nassau’s April 19 special State Senate election cheered when Trump in Bethpage hung the “New York values” line around Cruz’s neck. That doesn’t stop Republican Chris McGrath’s campaign, however, from accusing his opponent, Assemb. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), of embodying whatever New York City Democrats value.
Whether or not this pitch works, it doesn’t sound all that different from Cruz’s most recent remarks.
Earlier in the national race, Sanders avoided attacking Clinton, insisting on an “issues-oriented” campaign. But as the New York frenzy built, he reacted to her negative statements about him by saying she wasn’t “qualified” for the office, only to walk the charge back. It was a change of position, even if not on an issue that affects the public.
And Ohio’s GOP Gov. John Kasich, who’s running a distant second in New York polls, seems to be moving from kinder-gentler mode to warning mode. In Albany on Tuesday, he told reporters, in reference to his rivals, that “this negative approach . . . leads to a lot of negative things: division, paranoia, hopelessness, anger.”
The final-week frenzy is underway. Quick hits take command, and anything that can be called the whole truth moves to a back seat, as if that’s a luxury for which there’s no time left.