Inside the New York State GOP gala at the midtown Hyatt Thursday night, general admission tickets cost a cool grand and chocolate elephants perched next to the salads on each plate.
Republicans gathered from across the state prepared to hear from their three candidates, including Donald Trump.
Outside, anti-Trump protesters gathered — there was a waving Mexican flag, signs saying "No racism no fascism," "Veterans are not props for hate," and "No one is illegal."
Inside, dignified men in cummerbunds sporting American flag pins and women in fur coats wandered in, as a trio of female jazz singers warmed up with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. “We will not allow anyone to disrupt us," one of the first speakers said.
Outside, police officers cleared a "pedestrian access safety area" — the small strip of street to allow pedestrians through, between the protest zone and the hotel. Later, some demonstrators would take the street, and burst briefly into the hotel.
Those were the extremes that greeted Trump at the dinner and en route to New York’s primary: Protesters who see him as a fascist demagogue, and the Republican establishment, warily watching his rise.
A friendly crowd
Trump, who holds a comfortable lead in all recent New York polls, was the center of attention.
The only disruption to his speech was a voluble woman, twirling a white napkin in the air as she cheered him, holding a glass of red wine.
Discussing his history in New York real estate, he was markedly less erratic than his usual stream of consciousness style — partially because he knew what he was talking about.
Rather than a rambling stump speech and boasts about the polls, he stuck to stories about his New York successes — Wollman Rink, Jacob Javits. Striking deals and finding ice.
When he pivoted to the 2016 election, it was merely to say politics was the same as business, that building the pristine rink would be like projecting American power abroad.
Then, he read from prepared notes about New York Values: the courage of emergency workers on 9/11; the simple beauty of families playing in Central Park.
Things he didn't mention: walls, Muslims, women.
That’s not entirely accurate, he did mention women: He said that back in the day the construction workers were men. Now, some were women. And that's “great,” he said.
The frontrunner who stole the show
The businessman was at home, and though he elicited his fair share of rolled eyes and muttered jokes around the room, the audience paid attention.
Gov. John Kasich and Sen. Ted Cruz had less luck, speaking through the main course.
Kasich’s reasonable but familiar calls for solutions, not fear and paranoia, failed to stay the fork taps.
Cruz stuck to his stump speech while murmurs indicated that few were listening. Flat tax, repeal Obamacare, safeguard the constitution couldn't compete with string beans and shaved carrots.
It was Trump who dominated the night, once again. By being the object of chants and tweets outside the room, and by sticking to the business of New York — business — within. For this New York crowd, as usual, the unsavoriness was left outside — both the protesters and Trump’s more vulgar campaign rhetoric. Is this the Trump we’ll see in the general election? If so, how short will our memory be as to what came before?
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