NEW YORK — On the final day before a New York Republican primary in which polls put Ted Cruz hundreds of thousand of votes behind Donald Trump, the Texas senator spent the bulk of his time in the city making appeals to small groups of Republicans behind closed doors.
Monday morning, he ducked out of a black SUV and strode into a townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side where he made his case to a well-heeled gathering at the New York Metropolitan Republican Club. Inside, Cruz skipped the heavy focus on social issues that characterized his campaign in the South and in Iowa, instead emphasizing jobs, national security and support for Israel, according to a recording of his remarks and attendees inside. The event was closed to the news media.
Monday evening, Cruz was slated to attend an exclusive fundraiser for his campaign at the Harvard Club, where he and his wife, Heidi, were to be feted by finance executives and other New York players. (Earlier in the day, he publicly campaigned in Maryland.)
Cruz has always had some allies in the New York donor class, but he has long been publicly at odds with Wall Street and the center-right establishment Republicans these events are designed to draw, including as a result of his “New York values” attack earlier in this campaign. But now, as Cruz heads toward what’s likely to be a contested convention face-off with Trump in July, his hope of winning the nomination depends in large part on uniting the party behind him — and that requires establishment support.
Cruz ignored a Politico reporter who asked Monday morning why he was holding no public events here Monday, save for an in-studio appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
“He did a town hall this morning taking questions from New York voters that reached millions of New York households,” Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said. “Then an event hosted by the local N.Y. GOP, the same type of campaign events he does regularly.“
Cruz, who has previously spent time in New York hunting for delegates, was well received inside the airy room at the GOP club on Monday, according to the audio, especially as he played up his pro-Israel bona fides, bashing Trump’s credentials on the issue in the process.
But Cruz’s earlier remarks about “New York values” still rankle some in Empire State Republican circles in which Cruz’s deep social conservatism is also out of step — underscoring his challenge in reconciling the uncompromising rhetorical and policy stands he took in early conservative states with the political sensibilities of more moderate Republicans voting in New York on Tuesday and in a spate of mid-Atlantic states next week.
“They’re not asking for my advice, but if they were, I think he should come in and apologize for making those remarks,” said Adele Malpass, chairwoman of the Manhattan Republican Party, as she also stressed that Cruz does have some committed supporters in New York. “He has not fully recovered from that.”
That challenge of broadening his appeal also translates at the donor level, as Cruz finds himself courting establishment-minded Republicans already worn out from supporting multiple candidates, from Jeb Bush to Marco Rubio to Scott Walker.
Cruz has been a strong fundraiser throughout the presidential contest, and he brought in $32 million in the first quarter of 2016, according to his campaign.
But though Cruz raised a significant sum in March, $12.5 million, it was barely more than his February haul of just under $12 million — suggesting that even though the presidential field has consolidated in that time, Cruz himself has not fully incorporated donors from candidates who left the race during that time, such as Rubio.
That’s especially the case in New York; some of Rubio’s major supporters have publicly stayed on the sidelines since their favored candidate dropped out. Others have given money quietly but don’t plan to be more involved in raising money or promoting Cruz’s candidacy.
Cruz’s Monday evening event at the Harvard Club, which reflects the graduate degrees that he and his wife hold from the university, is aimed at further correcting for that broader dynamic.
Dr. Ben Chouake, head of the pro-Israel group NORPAC and one of the event’s hosts, said he hoped the evening would raise $1 million for Cruz, who still trailed Trump in New York and nationally.
“It would be much more than that if he were leading the delegate count,” Chouake said. “But being behind in the delegate count, like anything else, people are more easily vested in a shortcut, at least at the primary level. … [B]ut I think he’ll do very well.”
One New York-based Cruz donor, who was planning to attend the fundraiser, said Cruz is running up against people who have already given to multiple candidates and are wary about going all out again before a contested convention. Cruz has almost no chance of winning the 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination outright, and, after weeks of insisting that was still a viable path, he recently shifted his emphasis to saying that his path runs through a contested convention.
“He is well positioned to be what I’ll call the ‘normative’ candidate, which is ironic, from where we started,” this source said. “But their macro challenge is to then drive large donations from significant bundlers. Donor fatigue is Piece 1, and Piece 2 is, right now, he’s fighting for ostensibly second place. … You’re asking for people to dig deep yet again for something that is really a competition for … tied for second place, that’s the best case, realistically.”
But a senior Cruz adviser said that donors like to invest in winning campaigns, and the more Cruz has demonstrated viability, both in outright victories and in outmaneuvering Trump in the delegate process, the more they are inclined to give. The New York primary looks to be a brutal one for Cruz, but he has pulled off a string of wins in the past several weeks from Wisconsin to Wyoming.
And certainly, there are signs that Cruz’s case is resonating. Several of the people who were to be at the Monday night fundraiser are also deeply involved with the Republican Jewish Coalition, an influential organization. At a private meeting of the group earlier this month, Cruz persuaded some major donors with reservations about him to get off the sidelines, in part by demonstrating sufficient electability, according to people in the room at the time.
“What Ted really accomplished here was making them feel good and right about becoming supporters of Ted Cruz, as opposed to, ‘Ted’s too controversial, Ted’s too divisive,’” Ari Fleischer, a former George W. Bush White House press secretary and a current RJC board member who is personally remaining neutral, told Politico earlier this month.
Ryan Williams, a vocal opponent of Trump, said the clock is ticking for the rest of the party to get behind Cruz in order to stop Trump.
“Despite misgivings some people have about him, there’s no question he’d govern as a conservative, appoint a conservative,” he said. “It’s time for the donors, the operatives and party elites sitting on the sidelines to get over it and support Cruz. I say that as someone who worked for Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.”
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