Trump and the NY ‘establishment’: If you can’t join ’em, beat ’em


Donald Trump speaks to supporters on April 17 in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. (Photo: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

NEW YORK—Donald Trump was having a moment.

Dressed in a tuxedo jacket and bow tie, the real estate mogul and former reality television star took the stage at last week’s New York State Republican Gala as the unlikely frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination. But in a ballroom at the Grand Hyatt hotel in midtown Manhattan, the real estate project that put him on the Manhattan map in 1980, Trump devoted less than half his speech to politics — declaring the subject to sometimes be “a little boring.”

Instead, as he scanned the crowd of nearly 1,000 Republican donors and party officials, including many from the Manhattan social orbit he’d been circling just outside of for decades, Trump sought a different kind of validation: one focusing on his business achievements. “I built this hotel,” he declared, motioning to the room around him. “Everybody said, don’t do it. It can’t be done. It’s never going to happen. Bad area. Bad location. Tremendous crime. The city is dying. And the city was dying. It wasn’t just like not doing well. The city was dead.”

Even his beloved father, a real estate developer who was his mentor, told him, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it,” Trump recalled. But he followed his gut. Trump ran out unsavory tenants and ignored critics who mocked his glassy redesign of the decrepit Commodore Hotel adjacent to Grand Central Terminal. And to improve the hotel’s image, he tweaked the address, changing the building’s location to tony Park Avenue — even though it technically fronts East 42nd Street. “It’s on the Park Avenue ramp, in all fairness, right?” Trump explained with a shrug.

The Grand Hyatt was Trump’s first big success, the project that launched his career as a major player in Manhattan real estate and beyond. And now here he was, back inside the building where it had all began, this time commanding an even grander stage as an insurgent presidential candidate close to capturing his party’s nomination. But instead of enjoying the moment, Trump seemed consumed with something that has dominated much of his life: Trying to win respect from a hometown crowd that has always seemed to look down on him.

Long before Trump was bickering with Republican party officials desperate to block him from winning the party’s 2016 presidential nomination, he was at war with the “establishment” of New York — including fellow businessmen and members of Manhattan society who viewed the developer and reality TV star, born and raised across the river in Queens, as a tacky, vulgar outsider whose only qualification was his bank account.

Because of that, the New York GOP primary has taken on particular significance to Trump. It’s not just his quest to get to the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, and it’s more than just a getting a home-state victory. For Trump, who came into Tuesday with a more-than-20-point lead in the primary according to several polls, winning New York is personal, a chance to perhaps finally get some bit of the respect he has been seeking most of his life.

Publicly, Trump has professed not to care that much what critics say about him. But in his books and interviews dating back nearly 40 years, the real estate mogul has long has a chip on his shoulder about “the establishment” looking down on him. The tone of many of these pieces echoes the increasingly ugly back-and-forth between Trump and members of the Republican Party who believe his candidacy could sink the party if he wins the nomination.

In an interview with New York Magazine in 1980, Trump openly complained about being viewed as a joke by other real estate developers, pointing to his Grand Hyatt project and Trump Tower, which was then under construction. At the time, he had demolished a series of Art Deco sculptures that had been a part of the original building on the Trump Tower site, enraging landmarks groups who had fought to save them. The controversy also alienated New York’s well-to-do who didn’t like Trump’s brash flamboyance.

Asked about the controversy by Vanity Fair in 1990, Trump raged. “I’ll never have the goodwill of the establishment, the tastemakers of New York,” he declared at the time. “Do you think, if I failed, these guys in New York would be unhappy? They would be thrilled! Because they have never tried anything on the scale that I am trying things in this city. I don’t care about their goodwill.”

And in his books, he repeatedly relishes the moments he bested a rival or critic who predicted he would fail and lashes out at the people he believed were his friends who turned their backs on him. “During the bad times, I learned who was loyal and who wasn’t,” Trump wrote in his 1997 book “The Art of the Comeback.” “I believe in an eye for an eye. A couple of people who betrayed me need my help now, and I am screwing them against the wall … and I am having so much fun.”

That same year, Trump told New York Magazine of his critics, “They do not know how smart I am. … (The social people) all kiss your ass if you’re hot, and they’re kissing hard now.”


Donald Trump poses with New York State Republican Committee chairman Ed Cox during a party gala on April 14 in New York City. (Photo: Kathy Willens/AP)

In some ways, Trump’s early comments foreshadow his descriptions of establishment Republicans who, he claims, are finally coming around to his campaign. In recent weeks, as he solidified his status as the man to beat in the GOP race, Trump bragged to reporters that Republican leaders were now calling him — although some of them, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, a not-so-subtle Trump critic, phoned the real estate mogul “at his request,” as a Ryan aide put it.

Trump’s nearly lifelong battle against the “establishment” seems like a rehearsal for his current role as a candidate with many grievances, most recently including his criticism of what he has said is a “corrupt” party delegate system that is “rigged” against his campaign because the party doesn’t want an outsider like him to come in and shake things up.

“How have we gotten to the point where politicians defend a rigged delegate-selection process with more passion than they have ever defended America’s borders?” Trump wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published last week. “Perhaps it is because politicians care more about securing their private club than about securing their country.”

But Trump has claimed some small victories. As he wrapped up his remarks at the Republican dinner last week, Ed Cox, chairman of the state GOP committee, followed him on stage. Cox, a frequent critic of Trump’s presidential campaign, said last year there was no way Trump could win the nomination because he wasn’t part of the “Republican brand.”

But now on stage with Trump, Cox was far more conciliatory, describing Trump as a political “genius” who is a the “frontrunner for our party’s nomination.”

Behind him, Trump, who was already shaking hands with supporters as he left he stage, paused and grinned.