NEW YORK — When Mike Long, the legendary New York Conservative Party chairman, told guests that Kellyanne Conway, the scheduled speaker at the party’s annual banquet Thursday night, would be late because “President Trump has just announced he is pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord,” the room erupted in spontaneous applause.
Mrs. Conway, the omnipresent Trump White House counselor (the job Ed Meese held in the Reagan White House), had been recruited for a spur-of-the-moment “why Trump did it” interview at the Fox News studios around the corner from Mr. Long’s dinner in Manhattan.
The spontaneous cheers of approval instead of tepid, pro forma clapping was a bit surprising. With Democrats outnumbering Republicans by lopsided margins of 108-42 in the N.Y. Assembly, 18-9 in the U.S. House and a Democrat serving as governor, New York is not exactly Trump territory.
Elected swing-district Republicans, plentiful in the Empire State at all levels, are generally considered vulnerable to even the merest whiff of unorthodoxy on climate change. But they and the assembled conservative and GOP and activists, pollsters, consultants and donors were almost overly upbeat about the Trump Paris pullout. That would be understandable for those dinner guests who are proud warriors in the cause of skepticism about climate warming’s claimed culprits.
Convincingly unforced smiles lit the faces of those — and there were lots — who privately confessed concerns about re-election in 2018.
They told me they were telling constituents that the Paris accord pullout didn’t mean the U.S. was veering smoky gray instead of easy-breathing green but that the Barack Obama-negotiated Paris compact had been needlessly costly for U.S. jobs and economic health and the president was determined to negotiate a better deal with the other Paris signatories.
This is the core argument in the White House talking points distributed to Republicans nationwide. Because it is so eminently credible as a motto, “putting Pittsburgh before Paris” works even for Republicans cringing at the prospect of the 2018 elections — at least for now, in this one Gotham test tube. (If you want to win office as a Republican almost anywhere in this state, every vote counts; so it helps energize GOP-skeptical conservative voters to be able to boast the endorsement of the Conservative Party.)
With every Republican in the Sheraton Hotel ballroom knowing full well that the GOP’s electoral health is mainly in Mr. Trump’s hands, Mrs. Conway made that reality look like a better-than-just-doable deal.
She told the diners that Mr. Trump pulled off the biggest surprise win in memory in 2016 “for all the reasons most people cite” but “most important was that he ran as a freedom-first conservative.” That line drew applause and emphatic nods from N.Y. state GOP Chairman Ed Cox (the establishment personified), Conservative Party Vice Chairman Allen Roth (a heart-and-soul Trumpster), Congress members John Faso, Lee Zeldin, John Katko and Claudia Tenney, state Senate majority leader John Flanagan and Assemblywoman and Conservative Party candidate for New York Mayor Nicole Malliotakis and dozens of Conservative Party county chairmen.
Asked how she came to be the first woman to manage a successful U.S. presidential campaign, Mrs. Conway said, “I want you all to remember it was Donald Trump who gave me that opportunity. The issue of gender never came up in our discussions.”
A New Jersey denizen about to relocate in D.C. with her husband and four children, she said that when she lived in New York, she registered to vote as, yes, a member of Mr. Long’s Conservative Party.
• Ralph Z. Hallow has been covering presidential elections and Washington politics from the nation’s capital for 35 years.