Political Hay

Governor Trump?

The conservative Nelson Rockefeller.

By 12.26.13

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Then there was the Rockefeller money. It played a curious role. Too much in evidence and it was a cause for alienation. But, says biographer Cary Reich in The Life of Nelson A. Rockefeller, while “Rockefeller did not buy his first gubernatorial nomination… the awesome weight of his fortune — particularly going into a contest against another megamillionaire, Harriman — acted as decisively as if he did.”

What was particularly distinctive about that race was the desperate need of that day’s GOP for a winner. Rank-and-file New York Republicans were positively inspired by Rockefeller’s fighting spirit, his vigor, his “hi ya fella” New Yorkness.

Rockefeller upset the odds that year of 1958. The election nationwide was a disaster for the GOP, as off-year elections six years into the incumbent president’s term repeatedly turn out to be. But Nelson Rockefeller beat the favored incumbent Averell Harriman — launching himself both into the governor’s chair where he would remain for the next fifteen years running New York like a fiefdom — and into the national arena as a serious potential president.

Times have changed since 1958. The political liberalism that Nelson Rockefeller came to so vividly embody was on its way to being routed by conservatives in the national GOP. As biographer Reich notes, the irony is that Rockefeller’s very liberalism and combined with his clout and record as Governor of New York in essence helped propel not the Age of Rockefeller but the Age of Reagan.

Philosophically speaking, Donald Trump is no Nelson Rockefeller. The Peyser column notes that he is scornful of uber-leftist environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for Kennedy’s role in stopping fracking in New York State, with Kennedy calling his ex-brother-in-law Governor Andrew Cuomo to stop fracking in its tracks. Meanwhile, as Trump told this writer, just over the New York border in Pennsylvania fracking is hitting its stride — in part because Trump believes the gas taken is coming from underneath the New York border, leaving New York the poorer at Cuomo’s hands. In today’s world, Trump is well on record as a Reagan fan, disdainful of those perceived by conservatives as Rockefeller’s political heirs. He is not a fan of George W. Bush.

Which leaves open the question.

Does Donald Trump want to be Governor of New York?

Could he be elected?

Yes, he could. By all accounts, 2014 is slated to be a GOP year. The Obama administration is plummeting by the day. Andrew Cuomo has not shown himself to be an overpoweringly popular governor. The one poll cited in Peyser’s column as Trump far behind — just as Rockefeller was once thought to be unelectable. And not to be forgotten, Trump’s battle with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (or “Shakedown Schneiderman” as we call him here) alleging corruption on the part of Schneiderman would be red meat in a Trump for Governor campaign. (Over the holidays, as reported by the Associated Press, Trump filed two charges of ethics breaches against Schneiderman, setting the table neatly for a corruption-in-Albany campaign.)

But politics aside, the real question is what is in Donald Trump’s head?

Unlike Nelson Rockefeller, Trump built his fortune himself. Overcoming every considerable challenge along the way. At this point, only Donald Trump can say whether he still gets up in the morning with the fire in the belly to build new resorts, golf courses, hotels, palaces, and towers. At 67, it may well be that he really is looking for a new challenge — and as with Nelson Rockefeller in 1958 — after a life of considerable accomplishment has decided to finally take the serious political plunge. Had Mitt Romney won the presidential election last year, certainly Trump this minute might have been Secretary of the Treasury. He is scheduled next month to make a trip to New Hampshire, re-launching the presidential talk.

The hard political fact of American life is that no one has been elected president without first holding political or military office — governor, general, senator, or congressman. The lone famous exception is utility executive Wendell Willkie, who swept the office-holders aside in 1940 in an upset to win the GOP presidential nomination — and then lose to FDR.

But in the end, all of this is talk.

Can Donald Trump move from Trump Tower to the governor’s mansion? Can he be the turns New York State politics upside down, remakes the state and along the way gets a serious shot at the White House? Is he willing to, as it were, spend weeks on end in a Buick with some modern version of Malcolm Wilson at his side visiting the Kinderhooks of New York? Beguiling the locals with his smile, his trademark New York breeziness, listening — and learning — about their problems? Showing his famous willingness to fight the good fight on the behalf of all New Yorkers? And along the way remaking New York politics in a conservative Trump fashion as Rockefeller did in the liberal fashion? Not to mention opening the door to a presidential run?

Only Donald Trump gets to decide.

But if he did?

Heartburn would be the least of Andrew Cuomo and Eric Schneiderman’s problems.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.