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After years of tussling with both President Obama and the GOP's own extremist wing, Republicans are wistfully searching for a figure that reminds them of past electoral triumphs and better times. They need a man who isn't just an ideologue, but knows his way around the halls of power. To be great again, the GOP needs a man who appeals to the middle enough that he could win two — no, three! — statewide elections in a deep blue state, but who still remembered that he owed his success to grassroots conservatives and delivered on policies that mattered to them without compromising his own vision.
That man is George Pataki. Cue a soaring musical score.
At least, the above is what I imagine George Pataki thinks when he looks in the mirror these days. Because to the surprise of nearly everyone but George Pataki, George Pataki is a potential 2016 candidate for president.
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Pataki performed well during the one great drama of his governorship, on 9/11. But like pretty much all political figures who held office between 1994 and 2006, Pataki flatters himself the unique creator of positive trends that were national or global and had little to do with his governance. He is like one of those petty early medieval kings who had the luck to reign when there were no plagues or crop failures. Really, the best you could say about him is that the weather held up.
Pataki takes credit for making New York safer. He pushed through over 100 crime-related bills during his 12 years as governor. Sentences lengthened. The death penalty was reinstated. And crime did indeed plummet under Pataki, Rudy Guiliani, and the data-driven NYPD. But it turns out plummeting crime is national and generational and has nothing to do with political parties. In fact, it's still plummeting under Bill de Blasio.
Pataki takes credit for good economic times. Welfare rolls dropped on Pataki's watch, and state revenue soared as New York City rebounded. The state budget doubled, even as he cut taxes. And if, like Pataki, you only really count the nine million people who live in New York City and Westchester County, the Pataki years were great. Wall Street and the nearby Connecticut hedge fund coast created many new millionaires and a few billionaires. But it's difficult to find the unique Pataki contribution to Wall Street's success, and it's easy to see Wall Street's contribution to his. Pataki also had the immense good fortune of coming into office not long after the George H.W. Bush recession and leaving office months before the George W. Bush crash.
And if you bother to notice the other 10 million people in New York state, whose cities are dying, and who are grasping hopelessly at new casino projects, Pataki's record doesn't look so great. Upstate New York relies on hospitals, universities, prisons, gambling, and, unofficially, heroin. In other words, it relies almost totally on subsidy. Upstate New York is part of what Kevin Williamson called the great white ghetto that stretches from northern Mississippi to the Adirondacks. Without Wall Street, Pataki would be the man who led one of the few states that truly declined during one of the greatest boom periods of American history.
Pataki did, however, distinguish himself from the stink of Albany's corruption. Unlike legislators, he only abused the state's fleet of aircraft and not the legislative interns.
Even his much touted environmentalism has the stink of NIMBY cronyism all over it.
But Pataki has a story to tell the GOP's donor class! It mostly goes like this: "I'm not Rand Paul and my last name is not Bush. I'm probably the one Republican who will make sure your mistress' abortion remains safe and legal, however rare." Riveting, I know. The media will eat it up.
George Pataki was a three-term governor of New York, though no one can remember why. He's apparently running for president of the United States, although no one asked him to.
Pataki's candidacy should be far-fetched, hopelessly so. But is it? Thanks to the combination of an innumerably large number of GOP candidates, the glass jaw of Hillary Clinton, and the American Republic's lamentable history of electing men like Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, and George W. Bush to its highest office, who can really say what will happen?
Maybe Pataki will be the next man on Mount Rushmore. History is stupid sometimes.
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