Editorial: A Trump endorsement does Zeldin no favor

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s lead over Rep. Lee Zeldin in the race for governor has gotten smaller in recent days, with Mr. Zeldin pounding the theme that crime in the state is out of control and the incumbent governor isn’t doing enough about it.

Some polls have her lead down to five points; others have it slightly higher. If Mr. Zeldin was feeling good about closing the gap and being in a race some pollsters are now saying is too close to call, he was probably not happy with events over the weekend.

But first, some background: While Donald Trump was president, Mr. Zeldin was one of his most ardent supporters in Congress. He unabashedly supported him at every turn. He was photographed with him frequently and voted with the then-president without exception.

Then, Mr. Trump was beaten in the 2020 election. On Jan. 6, 2021 — after the attempted coup by rabid Trump supporters — Mr. Zeldin voted along with nearly all congressional Republicans to reject the electoral college count in certain states — states where judges had ruled there was no fraud and multiple recounts proved Joe Biden had won.

Those Republicans must have known something that more than 60 judges didn’t know — or they were just showcasing their fealty to Trump, facts notwithstanding. Thus was born the “Big Lie,” which has torn at the democratic underpinnings of our constitutional republic since it was first shouted.

In spite of the violence of Jan. 6, Mr. Zeldin voted along with nearly all Republicans not to create a commission — à la the 9/11 Commission — to investigate the events of that horrific day. They explained it was “political,” and therefore not needed.

This is all to say that Mr. Zeldin has more than earned the endorsement of Mr. Trump in his campaign for governor of the blue state of New York. And that endorsement came last weekend — late in the race and in a way that Mr. Zeldin’s advisers probably grimaced over when they read it on Trump’s social media account. When asked by Newsday about the endorsement, Mr. Zeldin said he didn’t think it was news.

The former president’s praise was effusive: he hailed Mr. Zeldin for his devotion to the Second Amendment and, with the liberal use of capital letters, said Mr. Zeldin “will get THINGS DONE. He will be a GREAT governor of New York and has my Complete and Total Endorsement.”

Predictably, the Hochul campaign pounced, saying Trump’s endorsement “proves Zeldin’s full embrace of the MAGA agenda and shows just how out of touch he is with New York voters.” 

Trump’s endorsement appears to be a gift to the Hochul campaign and not the other way around.

There is another way to look at it that is even more puzzling. The endorsement came on the same weekend when Trump sent out what was broadly described as an antisemitic post on his social media account. He said Jews in America “must get their act together” and be grateful to him because of his strong support for Israel while he was president. Then he added the cryptic comment “before it’s too late.”

Too late for what?

Trump’s comments no doubt put Mr. Zeldin — who is Jewish — in a very uncomfortable position. How could he thank Trump for his endorsement after this?

The Forward newspaper, which addresses a Jewish-American audience, wrote over the weekend: “When a former president with millions of followers heckles American Jews, it’s not even remotely funny.” The newspaper castigated Trump for “singling out American Jews as ingrates.”

For Mr. Zeldin, working around the clock to beat Ms. Hochul on the very potent issue of crime, the former president has done him no favors. Trump has certainly not repaid the loyalty Mr. Zeldin showed him.

No prominent Republicans called out Trump for his post. Mr. Zeldin did not say anything critical, either. When we asked for his comments, this is what his campaign sent us:

“Congressman Zeldin is honored to have the support of New Yorkers from all walks of life — Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike. They’re sick and tired of the attacks on our wallets, safety, kids’ education and more, and they know it’s going to take a new generation of leadership to get the job done.”

The campaign’s statement missed the forest for the trees.