Start spreadin’ the news: The hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director (and the exodus of press secretary Sean Spicer) signals an increasingly New York-oriented Trump administration.
In a sense, this orientation is normal. When you think about previous presidents, there was Harding with an Ohio gang, Truman with a Missouri gang, Carter with a Georgia mafia, and Kennedy with an Irish mafia. Coolidge had an Amherst mafia of sorts. Reagan had Californians, and Clinton had Arkansans. And George W. Bush’s election brought an influx of cowboy boots to Washington, D.C.
It’s not that surprising that Trump has a New York circle around him, starting with his family, and now Mooch. This isn’t new for Trump. Think former campaign aide Sam Nunberg, and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (who is possibly the next attorney general). One might also add Roger Stone to that circle, although he is now largely based in Florida. But one gets the sense we have now entered into a phase where doubling down on New York financial guys (at the expense of D.C. political pros) is a strategic decision.
Trump’s circle is interesting on a few levels. First, it flies in the face of the liberal urban versus conservative rural divide—which has become arguably the most predictive political dichotomy in the nation. Conservatives tend to be overrepresented in rural areas, particularly in the South, where stereotypes about New York tend to be pretty deep-seated. I’m reminded of the time Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker referred to riding the subway as being “like you’re [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids.”
Few red staters view New York City that negatively today, but (until Trump won) it was still easy to assume a New Yorker might be too moderate to win a GOP primary. Despite the existence of “hard-hat populists” (don’t forget, Archie Bunker lived in Queens, and here’s who Archie Bunker was in case you do forget), national conservatives have never exactly viewed NYC as part of what Sarah Palin might have called “real America.” (Note: Donald Trump is not above citing regional stereotypes, recently saying “there are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.”)
Taking a shot at Gotham used to be like shooting fish in a barrel or as easy as calling Nancy Pelosi’s worldview “San Francisco values.” At least, that was what Ted Cruz was thinking when he mocked “New York values.” (I’m guessing Cruz saw one too many Pace Picante Sauce commercials where they scoff, “NEW YORK CITY!” Or maybe it was that episode of King of The Hill where, much to his chagrin, it turns out Hank was born in NYC?)
There was also evidence that New York Republicans—from Nelson Rockefeller to Giuliani—were a) moderates, and b) people who couldn’t win nationally. The moderate label deserves a big asterisk. William F. Buckley, the intellectual cosmopolitan conservative icon, ran for mayor of New York City and based his National Review magazine there. His crew might have been viewed as having been in a sophisticated bubble, but they were never viewed (until Trump redefined the paradigm) as moderate. You could say the same thing about The Wall Street Journal, radio host and Daily Beast contributor John Batchelor, and the Manhattan Institute. (New York is a huge city, so it’s really hard to pigeonhole.)
Nevertheless, until recently, there was a general sense that New Yorkers were, if not effete, then at least not “one of us.” But that stereotype has changed and evolved. I suspect, like everything else, the evolution was years in the making. My gut is that Fox News helped normalize New York-ness to the rest of the geographically conservative world. If The Cosby Show and Will & Grace could change attitudes by bringing people we might never otherwise associate with (in this case, an African-American doctor and lawyer—and two gay men) into our living rooms, then why wouldn’t exposing red-state conservatives to 24 hours of right-wing New Yorkers also have a subconscious impact?
Not only were there a disproportionate number of populist New Yorkers suddenly brought into our homes, but it seemed like people with a New York mentality—from Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly and Jeanine Pirro to Eric Bolling (by way of Illinois)—were predisposed to like Donald Trump. This predisposition was also true of other prominent opinion leaders like Larry Kudlow (who lives in Connecticut, by way of New Jersey).
The New York state of mind, of course, is as much a general mindset as a specific geographical location. An attitude. New Yorkers are loud, brash, confident, and opinionated. This was once off-putting to many Americans—especially (one might argue) conservative middle Americans. Today, the brash New Yorker is an archetype of conservatism. As soon as being a “fighter” trumped philosophical orthodoxy, being perceived as pushy and rude became a feature, not a bug. “Given the current climate that we’re in, and how the political process has evolved and changed in recent presidential elections, people are looking more for a street fighter now,” explains Tom Dadey, executive committee member of Trump’s transition team and Onondaga County (New York) Republican chairman.
Has the city changed conservatism, or has conservatism changed Trump and Scaramucci? Both men have abandoned any trace of secular liberalism; Mooch just deleted all of his liberal tweets. Rank-and-file conservatives love the New York attitude when it’s targeted at skewering New York liberal elites. However, while it may be inconsistent with a conservative temperament, it’s not moderating any right-wing impulses (at least not any that I can see).
Of course, nobody who voted for Donald Trump wanted him to be a perfect philosophical conservative. They voted for him so he could get things done, and it’s clear that this hasn’t happened in his first six months in office. I suspect the hiring of Scaramucci is a sign that they will “let Trump be Trump.” Maybe that’s not such a bad idea.
If there were any hopes that the likes of Reince Priebus or Sean Spicer could temper the president, they were quickly abandoned. Odds are that Scaramucci will clash with the press, but (like an illegal narcotic) if we are stuck with Trump, anyway, a purer form is preferable to one laced with unrecognizable foreign substances. In other words, Trump is who he is; his team might as well own it, because not doing so is even worse.
If you want to see what a cluster it is to have a visionless, leaderless, ad hoc policy, look no further than the Republican health care plan that Trump outsourced to GOP leaders. “Scaramucci had a personal relationship with Trump long before the campaign, so it’s natural that a guy like the president—no matter what state he’s from—would want to bring his friends into his administration to help move his agenda forward,” says Dadey.
A change has come to Washington, a chance to turn things around.
It’s up to you, New York.