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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Like other pols, Trump reprises an old act

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at FreedomFest

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at FreedomFest in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 11, 2015. Credit: AP

Pundits prattled about "the new Nixon" nearly a half-century ago, before the Californian's first election as president. By the end of Richard M. Nixon's tenure, however, the earlier caricature of "tricky Dick" came roaring back with a vengeance.

Political players, like most adults, have permanent personas that don't change even if the tactics do. This much is clear even for first-time GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump -- whose bluster on Mexican immigration is defining his candidacy.

And while few may realize or remember it, Trump managed in remarkably similar fashion more than 20 years ago to raise the hackles of another group of North Americans -- who weren't even new to the United States. It came as casino-magnate Trump sought to crush a threat from rival American Indian casinos.

He challenged members of a House subcommittee in an October 1993 appearance to go to Connecticut and "look at" the Mashantucket Pequots.

"They don't look like Indians to me," Trump said. "They don't look like Indians to Indians."

Trump clashed with then-Gov. Lowell Weicker, who signed the deal with the Pequots and defended their casinos' $113 million-a-year contribution to his state. Weicker said "we don't need that dirtbag in Connecticut," to which Trump called him "a fat slob who couldn't get elected dog-catcher."

Weicker, a Republican-turned-Independent, said, "I can lose weight a lot faster than a bigot can lose bigotry."

Seven years later, the battleground was in New York's Sullivan County, where Trump and his associates aired ads featuring a picture of cocaine lines and drug needles and associated these with the Mohawk Indian Nation, asking: "Are these the neighbors that we want?" Local officials and tribal spokesmen condemned the ads as bigoted.

Same show, different theater.

Rocket back two decades and you can also find Hillary Rodham Clinton, then en route to becoming first lady, serving as a Democratic lightning rod. When a storm rocked the 1992 campaign about President Bill Clinton's dalliances, she sat beside her husband for a television interview and said, "You know, I'm not sitting here -- some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.

"I'm sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he's been through and what we've been through together. And you know, if that's not enough for people, then heck, don't vote for him." Republicans slammed the performance.

For Clinton, carefully crafted public appearances and awkward instances of damage control became a perennial ritual, through her years as U.S. senator, presidential candidate, secretary of state, and afterward.

Perhaps another candidate with roots in this part of the country is revising, or revisiting, a career chapter from the 1990s.

Back in 1993, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie made his first grab for elected office. Despite being a Republican, he tried to unseat the GOP majority leader of the state Senate. He was crushed at the polls.

It would be shocking if his 2016 bid for national office does not end the same way. For now, he's following a familiar script, condemning others darkly. Christie said on CNN that if terrorists attack the United States, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an opponent of the Patriot Act, "should be in hearings in front of Congress."

Patterns of public behavior tend to last.


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