Pundits like to say politics in New York is a bare-knuckle brawl. They mean it as a metaphor.
But the recent history of Donald Trump rallies had many wondering whether his conclave in Bethpage last night would turn it into more than a figure of speech. Long Island, after all, has no shortage of knuckleheads. And there were indeed two arrests for disorderly conduct inside Grumman Studios for what police called a “physical altercation.”
But it appeared to be minor, and that was it. The metaphor survived ... as metaphor.
But pundits also know that politics in New York is like politics everywhere else — you have to connect with people. And on that note, Trump’s rally did not disappoint. He was back on his own turf, and he clearly knew his people.
Trump played the hometown drum all night, and the crowd of 10,000 or more responded.
He name-checked Queens.
He talked about getting to Bethpage State Park at 2 a.m. to get in line to play golf at the vaunted Black course, a well-known Long Island phenomenon, and added a sly, “You know what I mean.”
He extended hearty thank-you’s to Big Joe from Nassau — that’d be GOP county chairman Mondello, who endorsed Trump early in the campaign — and to “Steve from Suffolk.” Whoever Steve was.
Trump played into beloved stereotypes by saying New Yorkers “shoot straight” and by how he lamented what he sees as America’s lack of military prowess: “We don’t fight like people from Long Island, we don’t fight like people from New York.”
He also tossed red meat to the crowd by complaining about the Common Core, on a day when thousands of Long Island students again opted out of state tests.
“Boy, do you know me well,” Trump said at one point. And his fans ate it up.
But Trump saved his sharpest New York moment for the serious business of drawing a contrast with chief rival Ted Cruz. He effectively painted the Texas senator as an alien, a very strange stranger in this strange (to Cruz) land. Trump reminded the crowd of Cruz’ derogatory remark about “New York values” and Trump’s response, a 9/11-centered putdown of Cruz. Trump invoked the attacks on the World Trade Center and the bravery of the police and firefighters who responded, and the audience responded with a chant of “U.S.A.!! U.S.A.!!” Then he reminded them that everyone present lived through that awful day and knew somebody who died, provoking a chant of “Lyin’ Ted!”
At which point Trump said dismissively, “I think you can forget about him.”
It was a bravura performance, and one that showed Trump was not at all chastened by his drubbing by Cruz Tuesday in Wisconsin.
He even felt comfortable enough — or perhaps understood well enough the bitter history of immigration on Long Island — to read the lyrics of the 1968 Al Wilson song The Snake. He’s done it before at rallies and always in reference to his insistence that the U.S. not accept any Syrian migrants. In the song, based on an Aesop fable, a woman finds a wounded snake and nurses it back to health, but in the end is bitten fatally by the snake. And Trump practically shouts the last line, “You damn well knew I was a snake before you took me in!”
It, too, was a metaphor, dark and twisted, but it went over well in Bethpage.
Trump, a man at home.