Ed Cox and the Republican Civil War

And almost as soon as the last votes were counted, Republicans began plotting how to unseat Mr. Cox. To some rank-and-file Republicans, Mr. Cox failed as a fund-raiser (a claim his aides vigorously dispute) and lacks the kind of brass-knuckled political know-how needed to rule a minority party. They say he lives too much in his family’s glorious (or not-so-glorious, as it were) past, willing to sacrifice the good of the party for the Nixon name, and they point to the Congressional run of his son, Chris Cox, which occurred concurrently with Ed Cox’s ascendancy as chairman.

For his part, Mr. Lurie doesn’t want to talk much about Mr. Cox. Intraparty battles get personal and bloody soon enough.

Mr. Cox is reticent to talk about the issue as well, but mostly because he hasn’t given his record much thought. Sitting in the upstairs office of the Metropolitan Republican Club, a red-brick mansion on East 83rd Street, he brings a long finger up to his face. “Ahhhh,” he said. “I haven’t really thought of assessing it.” He paused again. “I haven’t really thought of assessing it much at all.”

As party officials tapped away on keyboards in the corners of the room and the faces of candidates from long-lost races stared down from the campaign posters affixed to the walls, he went through his short tenure as state party chairman-the victories in the Legislature and in the county executives races. He recounted how the Senate majority leader, Dean Skelos, told him that “he never thought he would be in a position to cut aid to education. But he did it!” He described crucial polling the party undertook, late infusions of cash into crucial races that helped tip the balance.

“We added our bit,” he said. “By playing our role in all of these ways, I think the state party is now back.” Like his father-in-law, Mr. Cox has a rare ability to inspire an almost nameless, vitriolic animus among his detractors. When he ran for state chairman, to his supporters he brought a touch of glamour to the grubby precincts of horse-trading politics. To the longtime party operatives from less privilege, he was the blue blood who swooped to the front of the parade by trading on the Nixon name without spending a day toiling in the vineyards of state politics. To them, the party’s historic victories in November happened in spite of Mr. Cox, not because of him.

There is some truth to this. Faced with the uninspiring Rick Lazio as the gubernatorial nominee, Mr. Cox set out to recruit Steve Levy-the Suffolk County executive and a Democrat-to switch parties and run in his stead. It was, in many respects, an inspired move. Mr. Levy had $4 million in the bank and a conservative record, and would force Andrew Cuomo to pay attention to his base. A stronger party chairman may have been able to pull it off, but Mr. Cox, the political neophyte, was unable to shove Mr. Lazio aside. A civil war erupted, and the monstrously unelectable Carl Paladino became the G.O.P.’s gubernatorial nominee. All six statewide candidates were defeated, and with them, the Republican’s best hope for the foreseeable future of winning statewide. “It was an embarrassment,” said Eric Ulrich, a councilman from Queens. “Ed lost control of the process.”

Now Andrew Cuomo has shown no signs of slowing down, and down-ballot Democrats stand to benefit. Retrenchment is inevitable among some of the legislative seats, and demographic trends look likely to continue the Democrats’ way.
And all of that overshadows what may be the biggest problem facing Republicans right now: former party luminaries who have now entered the private sector and seem more concerned with making money than with electing Republicans, and who, Republicans say, have that instinctual dislike of Mr. Cox.