LOS ANGELES, May 28, 2015 — Former New York Gov. George Pataki entered the 2016 Republican presidential race in the same way he announced his first run for office. He was a calm, understated assemblyman from Peekskill. Plucked out of obscurity by former New York Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, Pataki ran a campaign that was light on flash and heavy on actual governing.
Pataki promised to institute the death penalty if elected. After shocking the political establishment and taking down titan Gov. Mario Cuomo, Pataki kept his word. George Pataki is a man who starts out with nobody knowing who he is or why he is running and then stuns the political world.
Any man who defeated the elder Cuomo should not be taken lightly.
Yet Pataki will be taken lightly. One day after the most socially conservative candidate entered the race, Pataki will be the most socially liberal Republican to seek the GOP nomination since the late Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter.
Like Specter, Pataki is an asterisk in the polls.
Pataki could be an appealing general election candidate, but winning the GOP primary seems impossible. New York Republicans are far more moderate than the national party. If Pataki changes his positions on social issues, he becomes a flip-flopper with positions indistinguishable from the other Republican candidates.
If he runs on a pro-choice platform, he will most likely remain an asterisk in the polls. If he avoids discussing social issues, his opponents will bring it up if he rises in the polls.
Pataki did not focus on social issues when he ran New York. He focused more on improving the business climate and cutting down on crime. He was very solid in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, but much of the credit went to Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
One criticism of Pataki is that he built himself up but decimated the New York Republican Party. After some important victories in his first term, he won re-election two more times by moving leftward. His signature achievement has been gutted, as capital punishment in New York is all but suspended. The law is technically on the books but not in working order.
Pataki also decided not to run for a fourth term. His opponent, Eliot Spitzer, was seen as unbeatable, and Pataki gave the appearance of fleeing from a fight.
Pataki’s positions on economic and foreign policy are well within the mainstream of the Republican Party, but this causes him to just blend in the field even more.
The problem with the Pataki campaign is that, unless they want to run a socially liberal GOP race, there is no built-in constituency. Pataki is not a firebrand insurgent. He is a calm, competent, capable technocrat. Those people get the job done but rarely inspire people. When the battle is between competence and ideology, voters will choose ideology every single time.
Pataki is an establishment candidate running in a party that only allows one establishment candidate to gain traction. The son and brother of former presidents has the establishment money and network locked up.
Pataki’s social liberalism will not play in the Iowa caucuses. His best chance is a strong New Hampshire showing. However, the true libertarians in that state may see him as a Republican who grew government. At the very least, he did not take a meat cleaver to the budget.
George Pataki is a decent, thoughtful, solid executive. He is qualified to be president. He simply has no chance of winning primaries as a moderate in a conservative Republican Party.
Then again, if he somehow does win, do not count him out in a general election. Those who do can ask current New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo what happens to those who underestimate Peekskill Pataki.