Erie County Conservative Chairman Ralph Lorigo usually conducts his politics over breakfast at Lackawanna’s Daisies Cafe, where lots of pols and pol wannabes gather each Saturday to see and be seen.
But Wednesday evening, Lorigo found himself around the 25th floor conference table of Manhattan’s Trump Tower, joining more than 30 other Republican and Conservative leaders attempting to persuade billionaire Donald Trump to challenge Andrew Cuomo for governor this year.
“It was very, very interesting,” Lorigo said in one of the week’s best understatements.
Earlier on Wednesday, Lorigo joined East Aurora political consultant Michael Caputo and Erie County Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy for a more intimate meeting with Trump and top aide Michael Cohen. From all indications, nobody got too blunt with “The Donald” as they delicately woo one of the best-known names in America, who just happens to be willing to spend up to $50 million of his own money.
This constitutes official “tread lightly” territory.
But Republicans are looking for answers. As Trump demurs, as Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino raises funds for his own “Astorino for Governor” committee, as state GOP Chairman Ed Cox and state Conservative Chairman Mike Long push for Astorino, and as Cuomo drops even more into his $33 million campaign treasury, the “chicken game” draws on.
“Trump keeps saying the chances of his candidacy are 50-50, and that means there is a huge likelihood he won’t do it,” said one source familiar with the proceedings. “This stuff has got to start taking shape this month.”
Lorigo noted the significant comment posed to Trump by a party leader that may have best summed up the situation: “The problem you face is that so many people are skeptical about whether you will run.”
And there is no question disappointment gripped some attendees when Trump also declined to match Astorino’s move to open a campaign account (for the moment at least).
“I even brought along my notary stamp,” Lorigo said of the necessary paperwork to open the account.
All of this occurs as Trump stared at 56 percent of the party’s weighted vote gathered around his own conference table, with sources indicating more sympathetic chairmen were unable to attend. That’s more than enough for the 50 percent needed for endorsement; short of the 75 percent needed for nomination.
No silver platter yet.
As Trump continues to bash Cox at every opportunity, Lorigo noted that Langworthy proved instrumental in organizing the Wednesday confab; even sat next to Trump. Though Lorigo noted the Erie County chairman is only 33 years old, he wonders how the situation would differ if Langworthy held the state chair.
“Nick filled the room against the will of Ed Cox,” Lorigo said. “He has taken this concept and convinced Trump he could be successful. If Nick were the chairman, there would now be a consensus.”
But Langworthy is not the state chairman (though that’s a column for another day). Trump still has not backed off an earlier promise to exit should Astorino declare, and Long’s de facto endorsement of Astorino injects a potent dose of reality into the whole Trump scenario.
In addition, even Trump’s most ardent supporters have yet to declare enough support to lock up the GOP nod.
As a result, the “chicken game” continues as powerful forces in the Republican Party wait for the other guy to blink. The game will only grow more intense over the next few weeks.
The Politics Column pauses here to note the death last week of Ed Husted, the former Republican mayor of Olean and later top economic development official for Pennsylvania. The late mayor amassed many friends among top politicians and ordinary citizens over his almost 91 years, along with a trove of stories and the uncanny knack for telling them well.