During the sixth Republican debate, in Charleston, South Carolina, an argument broke out over Donald Trump’s hometown.
"Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan, I’m just saying," said Ted Cruz, repeating an attack he’d leveled at the bombastic frontrunner on the campaign trail. In his own defense, Cruz cited an interview Trump gave Tim Russert of Meet the Press in 1999, in which Trump told the host, "My views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa, perhaps."
The fight over "New York values" became an overnight sensation, spawning jokes on social media and a mock-angry New York Daily News cover emblazoned with a place-based insult of their own: "Drop dead, Ted — Hey, Cruz: You don't like N.Y. values? Go back to Canada."
On one level, Cruz is right about this. Republicans are outnumbered by a huge margin in Manhattan, where registered Democrats number 613,000 compared with about 84,000 registered Republicans, according to the New York State Elections Board. Still, that’s certainly a large enough community to have some imprint on the city, especially since many Republicans in New York are likely involved with big business.
But Cruz wasn’t saying there aren’t many Republicans in New York, per se. He was more likely referring to conservatives, the people who not only vote Republican but also hold the party to the right on a set of social issues that go beyond the interests of the business community, like opposition to both same-sex marriage and abortion. (You’ll recall that his attack on New Yorkers was motivated by a parallel Trump attack, in which the Donald told an Iowa audience that "not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba, okay?")
The number of conservatives living in Manhattan is a tougher number to get at. The people registering for third parties in Manhattan also skew left. About 73 percent of people living in Manhattan are registered with a left-leaning party, and about 10 percent are affiliated with a conservative-leaning party.
The largest third-party registration is the Independence Party: It has been known to endorse Mike Bloomberg, who registered as a Republican to run for mayor of New York City, but which also supported the Democratic nominee for New York’s governor several elections in a row.
The closest thing to a conservative movement we can approximate are registrants with the Conservative Party, who number 1,656 in Manhattan. The Conservative Party is "more of a philosophical movement than a political party," according to its chair, Michael Long, which is a perfect fit for Cruz’s intended definition.
Long cautioned that though conservatives are obviously outnumbered, they find other ways to hold sway over the party.
"The city is run by a bunch of liberals, okay?" he said. "But there are many conservative movers and shakers in Manhattan. In fact, conservative individuals in Manhattan are providing an awful lot of cash for the guys in this campaign."