Chris Collins is a mainstream, blue-state Republican whose first choice in this year’s primary was Jeb Bush. He represents upstate New York and has voted to the left of his party on issues of immigration. But when Bush bowed out of the race last month, Collins became the first member of Congress to endorse Donald Trump.
Collins’s decision to board the Trump train befuddled most observers. As a moderate back-bencher looking to move up in the world, why would you endorse an authoritarian demagogue over the strenuous objections of your party’s leadership? A recent report from Syracuse.com suggests a two-word answer: Carl Paladino.
Paladino is a Buffalo businessman and former GOP nominee for New York governor who enjoys threatening abstract entities with a baseball bat. Earlier this month, Paladino sent an open letter to New York’s top Republicans, giving them one last chance to endorse Trump before the state’s April primary.
“This is our last request that you join ‘Trump for President’ and try to preserve what’s left of your pathetic careers in government,” Paladino wrote in the letter, which was forwarded to his 50,000-member email list. “Whatever you do, staying neutral is not an option. Pick a horse in the race, and you may salvage some of your constituents’ respect for you.”
Since then, Paladino has been targeting Trump skeptics personally. Last week, he sent an email blast to supporters titled “Anyone interested in running in a primary to defeat Elise Stefanik?” Stefanik, a Republican congresswoman representing New York’s 21st District, was not persuaded by that implicit threat. But shortly after Paladino sent the email, another member of the Empire State’s congressional delegation, Republican representative Tom Reed, decided he wanted to make America great again.
It’s possible that Collins’s Trump endorsement is entirely unrelated to Paladino’s muscular advocacy. After all, who cares what some failed gubernatorial candidate says to his email list?
According to the Huffington Post, a certain New York congressman seems to care quite a bit about about such things. On Thursday, the site published this text message that Collins sent to his colleagues:
“I know Carl Paladino has been aggressively pushing all of you to endorse Trump. And I know he has indicated he will start ‘attacking’ NYers who don’t endorse Trump. You may or may not care, but he does have a formidable email list.”
Collins told the Post that he’d endorsed Trump without speaking to Paladino about it. But when pressed about whether the two had ever discussed the endorsement before it was made, Collins said, “Uh, so — I mean, Carl and I know each other.”