“Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.” –Woody Allen in “Annie Hall”
When GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz said his rival Donald Trump represents “New York values” it was supposed to be an insult, even though he has stubbornly refused to admit why. When asked by Fox News host and native New Yorker Megyn Kelly what he meant by the remark on Tuesday, he laughed and said, “the rest of the country knows exactly what New York values are. I got to say, they’re not Iowa values and they’re not New Hampshire values.”
OK … but really though, what does that mean? It can’t mean that New York City and state are somehow more debauched or morally pliant than the rest of the country. For instance, the Empire State ranks in the bottom half of U.S. states when it comes to divorce rates, behind staunch red strongholds like Wyoming, Alabama and Arkansas. New York also recently led the nation in terms of reducing its crime rate.
Maybe Cruz is alluding to the Big Apple’s reputation for supposedly loose morals, but teen pregnancy is down almost 30% in the city over the last decade (while nationwide its hit an all-time low). And even the cities’ infamous sex shops have been forced to keep at least 60% of their merchandise from being X-rated for over 20 years now. In fact, a 2011 George Mason University study deemed New York the least “free” state in the union, referencing among other things, its strict anti-tobacco laws. And while the city and state of New York certainly have their fair share of problems, their access to health care and quality of education rank ahead of Cruz’s home state of Texas.
But Cruz’s gambit is just the latest example from the GOP playbook of the vilification of the perceived “blue” parts of the country. Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin spoke in similarly cryptic terms in 2008 when she referred to small towns as the “real America,” overlooking the fact that the nation was founded in an East Coast city. When then-Sen. Barack Obama sought the presidency that year, Republicans warned of shadowy “Chicago-style politics” coming to the White House and used the descriptor “Chicago community organizer” almost like an epithet. When then-Sen. John Kerry was the Democratic standard bearer, he was routinely referred to as a “Massachusetts liberal” and derisively as “the senator from Massachusetts” as if by association the birthplace of Paul Revere connoted some kind of corrosive foreign threat.
New York, Massachusetts and Illinois are all very much a part of the United States, and should Sen. Cruz be elected president of the United States this fall he would be expected to represent and serve the citizens of those states in the same manner he would cater to the needs of all the other states of the nation.
Perhaps, because New York is the stomping grounds of Trump and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, Cruz sees short term advantages in taking potshots at their home base. But for a deeply conservative candidate who may have an uphill battle with Independents and has already offended many Democrats by suggesting the majority of “violent criminals” are members of their party, it seems shortsighted and divisive to stake out an “us vs. them” position among the 50 states.
There is also a pragmatic dilemma in demonizing urban centers as well, their populations of young, white, affluent voters are growing. And with larger populations come gradual electoral influence (New York already possesses the third largest delegate total), and that coupled with ethnic demographic shifts could spell doom for candidates like Cruz, who appear to have some degree of contempt for the values of these communities.
When Cruz appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” last September, the host asked him how he hoped to appeal to voters who don’t share his conservative ideology. He name-checked Ronald Reagan, who won significant crossover votes from blue collar Democrats in 1980 and 1984. Reagan also won New York state twice, something he likely would not have been able to do had he suggested the citizens’ “values” were somehow anathema to the nation at large. No Republican has won the state since the Gipper.