NEW YORK—Earlier this month, Donald Trump stood in front of a midtown Manhattan ballroom crowded with supporters and repeated something that, in the context of his race for president, was as shocking as any of his more outlandish policy proposals.
“Just so you understand, we are going to play New York,” Trump said. “We’re not just doing this for fun. We’re going to play New York.”
It was a public commitment to invest the time, energy, and resources necessary to win a state that has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 32 years, that hasn’t been competitive on the national level in nearly as long, that has twice elected Hillary Clinton to the Senate with large majorities, and where the most recent poll showed Trump losing by 24 points.
It is customary for presidential candidates to signal their enthusiasm for winning any state in which they’re speaking, no matter how red or blue the tilt. It’s usually harmless, and it fires up the crowd. Hillary Clinton might easily make a similar pledge about Texas if she found herself at, say, a fund-raiser in Austin—and not just because the polls there are far closer than they are in deep-blue New York.
Yet Trump didn’t limit himself to a passing moment of bravado. He made clear—or tried to, anyway—that this wasn’t idle chatter. He returned to his commitment to compete in New York again and again. For a candidate not known for his attention to detail, Trump spoke at length about the upstate economy and the loss of population in the last decade, and he repeatedly criticized Andrew Cuomo over ads the state was running to boost tourism. It almost sounded like he was running for governor as much as president.