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Trump Expected To Win N.Y. Primary; Aims For All 95 Delegates

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Donald Trump has been doing well in the polls ahead of New York state's Republican primary today. This is his home state, of course, and also a state where Trump contemplated running for governor. That is a reminder that while Trump's rise to GOP front-runner took some by surprise, he's long offered hints of a deep political run, even seeing the governor's mansion as a possible springboard to the presidency.

Let's talk now with someone who was seen by some as standing in Trump's way in New York, the state's Republican chairman, Ed Cox. Mr. Cox, good morning. You're laughing a little bit there I hear.

ED COX: Yeah, I am, David. Good morning. It was - yeah, he was interested in running for governor. And he's interested in running for the presidency for a long period of time. And - but he never quite jumped in.

And I'm - and this time around, he did. But in 2014, when our governor's race was starting to heat up, he thought he might run for governor but as - really as a stepping stone to the presidency.

GREENE: He made that clear to you and other Republican leaders, that this was - that was just going to be a step...

COX: No, he did not make that clear.

GREENE: OK.

COX: That was - but others such as Roger Stone and all say, no, Donald, run directly for the presidency. That's the way you ought to do it. But he got very serious about running for governor. But the way he was talking about it, I don't think he understood our process. So I thought we ought to get together, as chairman of the party, with him as a potential candidate.

And I let him know, look, you've got to compete with everyone else. And he said, no, I had to clear the field for him or else he wouldn't run. And I said, look, even your supporters on my committee will not support that. And he wasn't too happy about that.

GREENE: You're saying he expected you to just clear the way and let him be the Republican nominee and not have to compete with anybody?

COX: Absolutely, and that's something that I would not do and could not do. And he was very unhappy with it. Now, in fact, he's very happy with the fact that he didn't run for governor. He probably would have lost.

It just would have been a very - and when people think that you are actually not interested in being governor but being interested in president and just using it as a stepping stone, it would not have worked at all for him or for our governor's race.

GREENE: He was not happy...

COX: So...

GREENE: He was not happy with you at the time. He at one point said Republican leaders in New York state supported him, quote, "other than Ed Cox, who doesn't know how to win. He's never won anything." That's pretty harsh.

COX: (Laughter) He was pretty harsh at the time, actually. But he's not harsh now. He is very grateful for the fact that he - look, if you don't want to compete, you really don't want it. And for the presidency, he wants to compete. And he is there and competing and our front-runner. And he's doing very well.

And he's very happy with the way things worked out and understands that if he'd run for governor back then, he never could have run for the presidency - probably would have lost and that would have - and as a loser under those circumstances, he couldn't have run for the presidency.

GREENE: You endorsing him right now?

COX: No, I - part of a - look, this is - we are very excited as Republicans in New York. This is the first time in 40 years that we've had our New Hampshire moment, where we really count. What happens today at the polls can be decisive in the course of the nomination process. And the three candidates have been all over the state.

This is our New Hampshire moment. But we've got a lot of delegates - 95 as opposed to New Hampshire, which has very few delegates. And in the process, like New Hampshire (unintelligible), the state party is neutral and the chairman of the party is neutral. So I've stayed neutral throughout this process. And I will stay neutral throughout today also.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you this question, Ed Cox. I mean, you're neutral, as you say. And - but, I mean, it sounds like you have some positive things to say about Donald Trump. And over the course of the last couple years from when he thought about running for governor to now, any ideas you've heard from him, any policy proposals that make you sort of more supportive of the idea of him becoming president?

COX: Well, it - what makes me supportive of him, and I think which makes him the front-runner - and I can say good things about every one of our candidates and have - but with respect to Donald Trump, he has proven that he is a political genius in many ways - ability to craft a good message and to - whether you like it or not, a good message that he then puts out in the way that it sticks.

People get it, and they understand it. And it may be a little bit straightforward, but yet, it sticks. And that's a very - that's the essence of being an effective politician.

GREENE: I could hear some people saying that if they thought of one top quality they want in a president, it wouldn't be that they can stick to a message, that they would want to hear more substance. I mean, what would you say to people who said that?

COX: Oh, he is a very substantive individual. He has a very inquiring mind. We have a relationship where we'd get together from time to time - even before he ran for governor - and talk about politics. And he certainly has an interest in politics and policy. And - but the - if you're going to implement policy, you need to be in a position to do that.

And to do that, you have to go through the political ringer, and that's what he's doing very effectively now.

GREENE: You seem to suggest that he has really energized the party, the state party in New York. It makes me wonder if you...

COX: No, no, the process - the process has energized - all three candidates campaigning all over the state, asking Republicans for their vote on today, in the primary, is what's energized the party.

GREENE: Well, do you think - I mean, many GOP leaders don't seem that happy with the way things have happened and, you know, these candidates still duking it out. Are national GOP leaders making a mistake not embracing this energy in this process?

COX: Well, look, they - no. It's not just Donald Trump. It's the other candidates also. And it has just been a process that's been very unusual, very unique. But we are in a unique political times. And the unique individuals rise to the occasion. And that's what Donald Trump, as well as the other candidates, have done.

And they're all part of a process by which we will end up with a very good nominee and probably the next president of the United States under the circumstances.

GREENE: OK, Ed Cox is chairman of the state Republican Party in New York. Thanks very much for joining us.

COX: David, good to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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