Holding the Republican Reins: An Interview with Ed Cox, Chair of the New York Republican Party

By Sara Lehmann

Ed Cox

Ed Cox is back. After a four-year hiatus, Cox returned to his position as Chair of the New York Republican Party, a post he previously held from 2009-2019.

A corporate and finance lawyer, Cox was designated a “Super Lawyer” and has a long record of public service in New York and on the national scene. He has served four Presidents, four New York Governors, and the Republican Party on state and national levels. He also joined the Trump 2020 reelection campaign as a member of the campaign finance team.

In conversation with Cox, we discussed the current state of the Republican Party in New York, the challenges facing New York and New York City, and what it was like to have President Richard Nixon as a father-in-law.

In this May 23, 2018 file photo, New York Republican State Committee chairman Ed Cox recites the Pledge of Allegiance during the New York state Republican Convention, in New York. (AP Photo/File, Richard Drew)

 Congratulations on your position as Chairman of the N.Y. State Republican Party. Since you are returning to a long-held position, can you detail the changes that took place during your break and how you addressed new challenges?

We need to put aside the “me” in this. It’s a team. When I left the position as Chairman of the State Committee, I consciously took the redistricting portfolio with me. I knew full well that it would be a major issue and that I might be able to invest on the outside of the state committee. Indeed, it was. We ended up focusing on it for almost three years and it required a huge team effort.

Ronald Lauder really led the whole process. With his political team and financial backing, we defeated amendments to the Constitution, some of which would have taken away our best legal arguments against partisan gerrymandering by the Democrats. The Democrats did an extreme gerrymandering that would have eliminated Republicans from four seats. We challenged them in court and went up to the highest court and won there. It was a huge victory that resulted in Republicans having 11 seats rather than the four seats we would have been gerrymandered into.

Do you think the threat of gerrymandering by the Democrats is over or will they try again?

In fact, they are trying again as we speak. It is not over. It is in the courts and we have intervened. This is really a second attempt. It’s a case called the Hoffman Case, brought by Obama, Obama’s former Attorney General Eric Holder, and the Elias Law Group. It has no basis in law and was rejected out of hand at the trial level. It was appealed to the Appellate Division of the Third Department, and they’re going to have a hearing on it on June 9.

How did the Republicans’ victory at halting Democratic gerrymandering pay off in this past election?

If the Democratic gerrymandering had prevailed, Republicans would have had only four seats here in New York. Because of the win, there were nine competitive seats, of which we won eight. We won three upstate seats that are generally Republican seats, which gave us a record number of 11 seats. The difference is really the majority in the House of Representatives, which is five for Republicans.

Do you think Lee Zeldin’s campaign for Governor also helped GOP candidates in down-ballot races?

Yes. It was a very energetic campaign that got started early. Lee Zeldin’s campaign got a lot of momentum particularly on Long Island and the southern Hudson Valley, where just about all the competitive seats were. In large part, we won those competitive seats with Lee Zeldin on the top of the ballot and his good campaign.

With Senator Kirsten Gillibrand up for reelection in 2024, do Republicans have another Lee Zeldin type to challenge her and create a similar momentum?

That could be very important, but Gillibrand and her challenger would not be at the top of the ticket. At the top of the ticket is the presidential race. Many more Democrats than Republicans show up in a blue state in a presidential year and that creates a dynamic that is very challenging to the congressional seats.

But the second on the ballot might not be Gillibrand. It may be a challenger to her because she really has zero ID. Not many people know who Gillibrand is. She has not been active as a senator. And she could be very vulnerable in a challenge by one of the ultra-progressives, including Congresswoman Ocasio Cortez.

Some people claim Zeldin’s close ties to President Trump hurt him. If Trump is at the top of the 2024 ticket, will that affect Republicans on the ballot?

You’re right. In a blue state, Zeldin’s relationship with Donald Trump was not a plus, certainly. There were other issues, of course, but the relationship with Trump was a more difficult one to solve. Whether that would have made a difference in the end is another question.

In your chairman acceptance speech, you said Republicans are for “safer streets, good jobs, and good schools.” New Yorkers suffer from crime, job losses, high taxes, the migrant crisis… yet Democrats still outnumber Republicans in New York 2-1. How can you amplify your message going forward, specifically in places like Long Island and the Hudson Valley?

You would think everyone would be for safe streets, good jobs and good schools. But if you take a look at the ultra-progressive leadership of the Democratic Party in the State Senate, if you’re talking about good jobs, look how the Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris killed the Amazon project that planned to put a large project into his district with 27,000 jobs. He cannot say as a leader of his party that he’s for good jobs.

New York State Republican Committee Chairman Ed Cox, right, and Jeff Buley appear onstage during the New York State Republican Convention, Wednesday, June 2, 2010, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Wasn’t it AOC who opposed it?

Exactly. Gianaris opposed it, not wanting to offend AOC for fear of her promoting someone to challenge him in a primary. So, for political reasons, Gianaris killed 27,000 jobs, all of which [would have] paid more than $100,000 a year. New York is also the only state that bans the development of natural gas, in a state which has very significant deposits that could be fracked and [could] produce a lot of natural gas. The Democratic Party are job killers. In addition, they are raising taxes and regulations that make New York a less economic state.

These issues are causing New Yorkers to flee in record numbers, adding new Republican voters to states like Florida and Texas. Will this migration further diminish the Republican presence in New York or will New York’s extreme leftward swing attract common sense Democrats and Independents, who see their lives and livelihoods being threatened, to the Republican Party?

I think that the very fact that Lee Zeldin, who is pro-life, pro-second amendment, and had a relationship with Donald Trump, got 47% of the vote, because he campaigned on jobs and crime, means that New Yorkers generally want change. I think that will be a major issue in 2026 when we have the Governor’s race again.

Orthodox Jews in New York voted overwhelmingly for Zeldin. What do you attribute that to?

I think a lot had to do with crime, growing antisemitism in the Democratic Party, and the fact that Lee is Jewish.

Well, so is Bernie Sanders. Would you agree that it had less to do with Zeldin’s Jewishness and more to do with his identification with the challenges Orthodox Jews face?

Absolutely. He understood those challenges. His basic conservative stance with respect to the issues lined up very well with the way Orthodox Jews saw those issues. But he also did very well with Russian Jews and Asian voters, because they are also very conservative and very concerned about education issues.

You mention antisemitism. CUNY now has the distinction of being one of the most antisemitic institutions of higher learning, which is shocking, considering that it was a real haven for Jews over the years. Is the Republican Party trying to combat this?

We are. CUNY was known as a Jewish Harvard, with students, teachers, and very successful people of the Jewish faith. The Republican Party is clearly against the BDS movement. And we are out there fighting for the same values. But the Jewish vote is difficult. There is a basic, very liberal streak among Jewish voters in general.

You’re referring to non-Orthodox Jews?

Yes, exactly.

Many Orthodox Jews live in NYC, which continues to battle record high office vacancy rates. There have been big cities before — like Detroit and Newark in the 1960s — that never recovered from a downturn. Is NYC’s trend reversible?

That’s what we hope. We need to reverse it politically by bringing back good commonsense policies. New York has been counted out before, and I’m not prepared to count it out yet. We need to defend our congressional seats and build back our majority in at least one of the two houses in Albany to really have  two parties. In Washington now the Republicans have the majority and you have a Speaker McCarthy and not a Speaker Pelosi. The difference is huge. We need to do the same in New York to get good jobs coming back, instead of going down to Florida or Texas or South Carolina or Tennessee.

New York Republican Chairman Ed Cox, right, talks with reporters after listening to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State addresses at SUNY Albany in Albany, N.Y., Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

So, it all comes down to the politics of it?

Well, it also comes down to the city itself. We are still the financial capital of the world, but not because we are growing in that area. We are really bleeding jobs, although the headquarters are still here. Goldman Sachs has more employees in Texas than they do in New York, but the leadership is still here.

But look around the world. At one point, Hong Kong was doing more IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) than were being done in New York. But after President Xi stepped in and took control, he imposed his rule and that has really dampened what was before a very free-flowing and growing financial center. London is the other potential challenger to New York, but London has been hurt by Brexit and can no longer do business as easily in the EU.

So, New York by default is still in many ways the finance capital of the world, and the media and cultural capital. But it will not be any longer if taxes keep going up. Major businesses and the financial sector are going to move. One moved to Tennessee, others moved to Miami, and other banks are centered in North Carolina. As you said, it’s pretty clear that the city is having a lot of problems. We are bleeding some of our most productive citizens. The things that are being done in Albany and in the budget will only encourage those productive citizens to continue leaving.

On a personal note, can you share some memories of your most famous father-in-law? What did you learn from him as a President and as a man?

Whether he was President or former Vice President or a former President, he was just an exciting individual to sit down and talk with. And I had the privilege of doing that almost daily, either on a telephone call, when we went out to be with him on the weekends, when we were living in the White House for a period of time, or when I was dating Tricia.

He loved to think things out. He would sit there with his yellow pad and start working on things as President and even before that. In fact, he told me what he was going to do to help end the Vietnam War in February of 1968. I had been dating Tricia and once, while I was there waiting for Tricia to change, I asked him, “What’s your plan with respect to solving the Vietnam War and bringing peace in Asia?” And he said, “I’m going to travel to Peking and then travel to Moscow. That’s the way we’re going to solve the war.”

He had thought out the fact that there really was tension between China and Russia. He did that in his travels around the world. There were leaders who wanted to talk to him because they recognized that this was a man of ability and intellect who probably had a future. He picked up things from them, thought it out and realized that, regarding the split between the Soviet Union and China, a trip to China would in fact be in order. That’s the way it worked out. Then, of course, the next step that no one thought he would be able to do was the trip to the Soviet Union.

Do you think people are able to credit him for his accomplishments despite his clouded reputation?

We’re beginning to realize that, in fact, there’s a huge bias in the media. Back then there was no FOX news; there was no alternative. And it was all conditioned by the fact that the Democrats ran Congress for so many years. Richard Nixon was the only President elected without having a majority in either of two houses of Congress. They were overwhelmingly Democrat. And he had to work with that to get things done. He got a lot of good things done with them through compromise and negotiations. But, in the process, he lost his base.

And the success of the Yom Kippur War — what he did for Israel — will never be forgotten. Israel was desperate for equipment. When the Department of Defense quibbled about which equipment to send them, President Nixon’s response was to “send anything that flies.” That’s the kind of response you give when you’re supporting someone whose values you are very aligned with. Israelis went on the offensive knowing the equipment would show up and it did. And they succeeded. But the success resulted in an Arab oil embargo which resulted in a deep recession, as deep as any recession as we’ve ever had since the Great Depression. And it brought him down in August of ’74.

His successes were double-edged swords?

Look at his ’72 victory — it was the biggest victory that any Republican presidential candidate ever had, including Lincoln and Eisenhower. I think my father-in-law got 30% of the Jewish vote. That success was a real threat to the Democrats’ control of Washington.

This is a person who was always prepared for any meeting, big or small, and knew how to handle himself in the Washington context in a way that really made for very successful governance. But in the end, the Democrats knew they had to get rid of him and they had the power to do that.

New York Republican Chairman Ed Cox (R) with former President Donald Trump. (AP/Hans Pennink)

Do you see parallels to the Democrats’ treatment of President Trump?

We’re seeing it more clearly. Look at the Russia, Russia, Russia thing. It was, in fact, as he called it, a witch hunt. It was a hoax. It was put up by Clinton, and the Durham investigation has made that clear. And no one’s apologized for it. Or take the present situation with Hunter Biden. It’s clear, it’s out there that Joe Biden’s family was benefiting from his position as Vice President of the U.S. with Hunter Biden peddling his influence all around the world, violating a number of felony criminal statutes.

Yet the media and social media blanked it out and they’re still blanking it out. They’re not covering it at all, while they’re covering other things with respect to President Trump, like the Bragg indictment, which is a completely political attack. Look what Mrs. Clinton did. She cleaned out her whole email system, cleansed it and destroyed her laptop.

Do you think Nixon’s legacy will be reevaluated over time?

I think there was a whole political process that went on that has yet to be examined. It’s getting reexamined now as historians look back and take a look at the circumstances. I think it’s going to be seen that this was an extraordinary President whose impact continues to this day. It was a historical presidency by a man who was both an extraordinary politician but also had the intellect to analyze problems and work out the right solution — from the geopolitics of the Soviet Union and China and the Vietnam War to the basic environmental problems to restructuring the office of management and budget and administrative things.

This was a man who always was probing, thinking. He had definite opinions. He was a person of really very good intents and special intellect, who rose to high office very early. I don’t think there’s really any American leader like him. Which is why Dole, in his eulogy, said that the last 50 years of the 20th century in politics would be known as the age of Nixon. And, indeed, it was. n

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