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Editorial: Trump’s shadow looms over state GOP primary

Donald Trump is very much a presence in the upcoming GOP primary for New York governor.

The Republican gubernatorial debate Monday night brought out the sharp elbows, but it also showed that Trump is standing in the wings just a few feet offstage. As the candidates argued with each other, Trump’s name came up repeatedly — all set against the damning evidence of the Jan. 6 committee hearings now underway in Washington, D.C. 

New Yorkers are five months away from a gubernatorial election, with Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and incumbent Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul the presumptive nominees.

Both face primaries June 28. Ms. Hochul has two opponents: former Nassau County executive Tom Suozzi and New York City public advocate Jumaane Williams. On the GOP side, there are four candidates: Mr. Zeldin, former gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino, businessman Harry Wilson and Andrew Giuliani.

Two of the candidates on the debate stage Monday night are solidly tied to Trump. Mr. Zeldin is as loyal a Trump supporter as anyone in MAGA world, and voted against certifying the 2020 electoral college vote just hours after the rioters were cleared from the Capitol. Mr. Giuliani’s father, Rudy, led the “stop the steal” charge that claimed that Trump was cheated out of a win by widespread fraud. For making “demonstrably false” statements about the election, Rudy Giuliani’s law license was suspended.

In his debate comments, Mr. Zeldin labeled Mr. Wilson a “never Trumper” – which in MAGA world is the worst kind of Republican. Andrew Giuliani called Trump “a good friend” and a “great president,” and said he hoped Trump would run again in 2024. Mr. Astorino called Jan. 6 “a horrible day in our nation’s history” and said Trump bore responsibility for the rioting.

The congressional hearings now underway place the pro-Trump GOP gubernatorial candidates — particularly Mr. Zeldin — in potential peril. The man he has so enthusiastically supported is being exposed by the Jan. 6 committee as having plotted to overturn a constitutional election and lying about it over and over. At some point in his campaign, Mr. Zeldin should have to explain to voters why he was so strong a supporter of a twice-impeached president, and why he opposed the committee’s work.

Does he feel it has a legitimate purpose? Does he believe the nation needs to understand who was responsible for the worst attack on our democracy in its history? 

On Sunday evening, Mr. Zeldin emailed the following response to these questions: “Democrats have made this committee a partisan, illegitimate sideshow by not allowing Republicans to appoint their own members to the committee and refusing to allow many key questions to be asked that don’t fit their narrative. There are also Capitol police officers willing to testify about relevant facts who are being blocked because their testimony doesn’t properly fit [Nancy] Pelosi’s political agenda. Some in Congress, in the media, and in the public sadly want every day to be January 6th, 2021, and as a story told a very particular way, leaving out any facts at all that don’t align with one preferred political narrative.”

This response shows that Mr. Zeldin sees no reason to dig deeper into the events of Jan. 6 or determine who in Trump’s administration is responsible for a planned insurrection intended to undo the constitutional election victory of Joe Biden. 

One eye-opening detail of Monday’s hearing was that Trump raised hundreds of millions of dollars from his followers to defend the Big Lie, even as aides, including former attorney general William Barr, repeatedly told him it was not true. Yet the money poured in and was diverted to beneficiaries including Trump’s hotels ($200,000) and a foundation run by his former chief of staff Mark Meadows ($1 million). The Washington Post reported that $60,000 went to Kimberly Guilfoyle for a two-minute speech introducing her fiancé, Donald Trump Jr., at the “Stop the Steal” rally ahead of the rioting.

Those who donated to a cause that was never real or valid should demand their money back. You surely would if you paid money for a used car that turned out to have no engine. In America, a sucker is born every minute.