The New York Republican Primary: Trump, Cruz, Kasich and Rockefeller

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at an airplane hanger in Rochester, New Yo
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at an airplane hanger in Rochester, New York April 10, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

It's been decades since a New York Republican primary had an impact on a party nomination, but here we are. Trump has the most at stake. He needs a big win, for political and delegate count reasons. And while the visible dynamic has him in pretty good shape, there are ghosts of years past that may derail him.

The good news for Trump includes Ted Cruz's self-inlicted wounds. Cruz decided to spit all over the Empire State. He created a coded message: "New York Values." You know, free love, atheism, communism, and a lot of people with strange, not very American last names. This apparently plays well with hard-right Republican primary voters in Missouri and Texas. But New Yorkers were bound to notice when he arrived here asking for their votes. And Cruz's opposition to the Zadroga Act, supporting 9/11 first responders, was icing on the cake. All Cruz has in New York is a small but intense group of evangelicals.

Trump has a variety of assets in place. He's a native son. He has, as he says, written a lot of checks. He has an infrastructure of supporters who, although quite daffy, win statewide and local primaries. And the party establishment, after initially revolting, have generally fallen into line for the Donald. All in all, a sweet set-up.

Not so fast. New York Republicans include a nice slice of voters who are uncomfortable with todays hard-right Republican Party. They grew up in a GOP defined by Nelson Rockefeller. Into and including the 1980's. Republicans in New York were largely pro-choice, pro-income tax, pro-big programs, pro-civil rights and pro-public schools. Remember Jake Javits, Bill Green, Charlie Goodell, Peter Peyser, John Lindsey, John Dunne, Louie Lefkowitz and many more? A little bit of this even survived past the turn of the century in the person of George Pataki, who grew up a Rockefeller Republican, but largely accommodated himself to the hard right era ushered in by Al D'Amato and the Conservative Party.

Where are those voters now? How many of them? I suspect there are more than you think especially in New York City and the suburbs. And for them, neither Trump nor Cruz will do.

Comes now John Kasich. Ideologically, he's no Rockefeller. He's a typical Republican economic and social reactionary as was the entire 2016 field. But he lets you think he knows better, and his rumpled, non-angry demeanor makes him a moderate, at least when compared to Trumps temperament and Cruz's policies. There are a lot of potential votes for Kasich out there, a lot of Republicans unhappy with the Tea Party capture of the GOP, a lot of Republicans who feel disenfranchised by their own party's hard right shift.

Therein lies the danger to Trump. There's a quirk in the Republican delegate selection process that compounds the danger. Every Congressional district chooses three delegates. That's true for upstate districts that are overwhelmingly Republican, and downstate district where they are an endangered species. So a couple of thousand Rockefeller Republicans on the West Side of Manhattan can throw the whole district to Kasich, even if he loses statewide by two to one.

The odds of this happening are somewhere between unlikely and possible. Here's a statewide prediction: Voters: Trump 54%, Kasich 27%, Cruz 17%. Delegates: Trump 58, Kasich 24, Cruz 13. Not the bravest of predictions. But there's a tantalizing opening for Kasich to move into the 30's, and Trump to fall into the 40's. If that happens, it will be the Last Hurrah for the party of Nelson Rockefeller. Those political ghosts deserve one last moment in the spotlight.