Some congressional Republicans are skittish about the idea of Donald Trump at the head of their ticket this fall, but not first-term New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin.
Trump “would annihilate” Hillary Clinton in his suburban New York district if he’s the GOP candidate and Clinton is his Democratic opponent this November, Zeldin said Tuesday. Clinton is “wildly unpopular” in the district, he said.
President Barack Obama carried the district by about 1,600 votes out of 290,000 total votes in 2012.
Asked about potential spillover damage from having Trump at the top of the ticket, the freshman Republican said, “The better question is: ‘How can anyone who is running against us be able to survive with all of this support [for Trump] that is coming from people who normally vote Democratic?” Zeldin hasn’t yet endorsed any of the Republican presidential contenders.
But asked if he could support Trump if he were the presidential candidate, Zeldin said, “If Donald Trump is running against Hillary Clinton that becomes a very easy decision. My district and the American public are ready to move on past these never-ending Clinton for president campaigns that have gone on for decades.”
Zeldin said voters wouldn’t necessarily equate Trump with the GOP even if he ends up as the party’s presidential nominee. “I think Donald Trump is perceived to be his own brand,” he said. “I don’t think people look at Donald Trump as the Republican Party, or the Republican Party as Donald Trump.”
In 2014, Trump contributed $2,000 to Zeldin’s campaign and, during the GOP primary, recorded a robocall on behalf of the Citizens United Political Victory Fund, calling Zeldin “a terrific guy” and “very conservative.”
Zeldin’s view of Trump contrasts sharply with that of veteran House GOP member Peter T. King whose New York district borders Zeldin’s and who has endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
In an interview with CNN, King said that initially he thought Trump’s inflammatory comments were the result of inexperience – “things that maybe an amateur would say” -- but now “the more the campaign goes along, the more extreme he gets. And this may be the real Donald Trump.”
King alluded to some of Trump’s comments and behavior. “You know, ‘George Bush is a liar; John McCain is not a war hero; a disabled reporter should be mocked and laughed at.’ All of this stuff, is just to me, makes him unqualified to be president.”
He added that there is a chance to stop Trump from getting the nomination “if we all get together and make it clear to the American people how dangerous Donald Trump is.”
Zeldin is high on the list of Democratic targets for this fall. His district includes part of Suffolk County on Long Island in the New York City suburbs.
Two Democrats, David Calone, a former Justice Department lawyer and the head of an investment fund, and former Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst are vying to oppose Zeldin in November. New York’s primary is June 28.
Before Zeldin won in 2014, the district had been represented for 12 years by a Democrat, Timothy H. Bishop. Zeldin defeated him with 54 percent of the vote. Bishop was hobbled by ethical questions arising from his intervention with state and federal regulators on behalf of a constituent from whom he sought a campaign contribution.