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Why are the Florida-Based Trumps Suddenly Interested in New York Politics Again?

Donald Trump Jr. is weighing in on a heated MAGA primary in a Long Island congressional district, and his father is trying to spoil Democratic primaries elsewhere.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Donald Trump Jr. speaks during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida.

In the last few days, you’d be forgiven for forgetting for just a moment that Donald Trump and his family have left New York. The Trumps, in short, are trying to tilt the scales in multiple New York congressional races just ahead of the New York primary next Tuesday.

Donald Trump Jr. has taped a robocall in a heated Republican primary for New York’s 1st congressional district, which is being vacated by outgoing Congressman Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee for governor. Trump Jr. is trying to boost Michelle Bond, a cryptocurrency trade organization CEO and businesswoman.

“Donald Trump Jr. here, and I’m calling to ask you to join me in supporting a real America First candidate for Congress—Michelle Bond,” Trump Jr. says in the robocall ad, audio of which was obtained by The New Republic. “Michelle is a real fighter who will always stand for the MAGA agenda, and I’m proud to give her my full endorsement. Make sure you go and vote for Michelle Bond on August 23.”

The robocall went out to all primary voters in the district.

Bond is one of a trio of candidates vying to succeed Zeldin. This race may be in deep-blue New York, but Zeldin has held the district since 2014. The district covers eastern Long Island and part of Suffolk County. It leans Republican—its Cook Partisan Voter Index is just R+3—but over the years has been represented by both Republicans and Democrats. Zeldin ousted then-Congressman Tim Bishop for the seat. Bishop had represented it since 2002 and, prior to that, Republican Felix Grucci was briefly the district’s congressman. The pattern continues the further back you go. New York’s 1st congressional district went for Trump in the last two elections, and before that it went for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012—the definition of a swingy district.

And yet you’d never know that from the way the candidates in the GOP primary are campaigning. They’re fighting tooth and nail for the Trumpian mantle. Bond, for instance, opposes abortion; lists finishing Trump’s border wall as one of her main policy priorities, along with “election integrity” and backing the blue—“I promise to always DEFEND our police,” her campaign website says. Bond’s main rival in the primary is Nick LaLota, a chief of staff in the Suffolk County Legislature. Like Bond, LaLota opposes abortion and lists election integrity and “protecting our Second Amendment rights” as top priorities. His attack ads have painted Bond as a reformed liberal lobbyist, claiming that he is the real conservative in the primary. The third candidate, Anthony Figliola, is a political consultant who describes himself as a strong supporter of the “America First agenda.”

Bond has also benefited from support from Ryan Salame, the CEO of FTX Digital Markets, the same company that Democrat crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried founded. Salame has poured $100,000 into a super PAC that’s supporting Bond’s campaign. Salame is Bond’s boyfriend.

A recent internal poll released by Bond’s campaign showed her leading Lalota by double digits, according to City & State. The poll found Figliola trailing both. Whichever of these candidates emerges from the primary will face Democrat Bridget Fleming, a Suffolk County legislator.

The district may have tilted right in the last few years, but under the right conditions, it could flip Democratic, argued former New York Congressman Steve Israel, who once represented the neighboring 2nd district and served as the chairman of Democrats’ congressional campaign arm.

Israel said that even though the district is just R+3, Republican primary voters are well to the right of that. “If you’re running in a Republican primary, you can’t get far enough to the right in that district,” Israel told The New Republic. “So whoever wins the primary is going to have to shift back toward the center in the general.” That’s a fact Republicans across the country are having to grapple with, but Israel says it’s particularly “risky in New York 1 because it’s had decent Democratic performance in the past. You can get away with that in a red district, but NY-1 is not ruby red. It still has elements of purple.”

Israel, like most veteran Democratic lawmakers or strategists, has been hoping that Roe v. Wade being overthrown, inflation seeming to subside slightly, and Joe Biden signing major chunks of his policy agenda into law could benefit candidates in districts like NY-1.

The Trump family has been active in fighting the opening Democrats see. Trump Jr. and his father have been weighing in on specific campaigns this entire cycle, but their focus on New York races in the past few days is at another level. The former president hasn’t endorsed in the NY-1 race, but he is planning to fundraise in person for Zeldin, who is taking on Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul.

Trump Sr. has also tried to act as a spoiler in other New York Democratic primaries. On Wednesday he endorsed Democrats Dan Goldman and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in their respective primaries for New York’s 10th and 12th congressional districts. Goldman, an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune, was an impeachment manager during the first impeachment of Trump. Maloney is chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee and recently co-authored a letter with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (no friend of Trump’s) asking the Director of National Intelligence to do a thorough assessment of the files retrieved from Mar-a-Lago recently. Both Democrats were involved in one of Trump’s impeachments.

Both Goldman and Maloney are facing serious contenders in their Democratic primary contests. It’s pretty clear what Trump is doing here. He’s trying to present his support as sincere (and yeah, it’s true he’s been a Maloney donor in the past). Trump’s endorsement isn’t welcome in either primary, and the candidates have said as much. Trump is trying to foment further chaos and hinder Maloney and Goldman from getting their party’s nomination, partially for revenge and partially to try and weaken the scrutiny he’s under.

“My assumption is that Trump wants him to lose!” Kathryn Wylde, the president of the influential Partnership of New York City business group, told me of Trump’s endorsement of Goldman.

The results might end up being mixed. Recent polling shows Goldman leading the field of a half-dozen candidates in his primary. Polling for Maloney’s race shows her losing to fellow Congressman Jerry Nadler (historically, no Trump favorite either). If Goldman wins, Trump will likely paint his endorsement as sincere. If he loses, Trump will say he was playing three-dimensional chess. Ditto for Maloney.

Stepping back, it’s clear that although the Trump family uprooted themselves from New York, they still want to have an influential hand in New York politics and reshape the order there to a more MAGA-friendly climate. Democrats will benefit from keeping that in mind.