What does Pataki have to lose?

When George Pataki ran for governor in New York and won, we were all astounded. His win was largely due to kingmaker Alfonse D’Amato, who planned and executed the victory. Also, it was 1994, a Republican year much like the one we have just experienced, and New Yorkers were in a bad mood. So Pataki beat Mario Cuomo and because the Democrats didn’t know what to do to win back the governor’s mansion, he was re-elected twice. Like so many other governors of New York, Pataki harbored thoughts of the presidency. I remember the whole thing as if it were yesterday. The arrogance of his administration was astounding. But then, it’s a heady position and it has eaten up some very good men who suffered from the same arrogance that consumed Pataki then. It appears things haven’t changed and, incredibly, he is still reaching for the nation’s top job. Yes, you heard me right; the guy wants to be president.

Sticks and stones won’t hurt him. He won’t stop. Some will say he’s nuts but it’s not easy to tell a man who was elected governor three times against overwhelming odds that he couldn’t be president. It just isn’t going to happen. But all of a sudden, Pataki is out on the political hustings trying to recreate his miracle win in 1994.

How can a moderate Republican who is on the progressive side of social issues like women’s reproductive rights win in a mean-spirited Republican primary? Answer: he can’t. But there he is, making the required visits to the early political battleground states. His toe is in the water and in a state like New York, which is short on comic relief these days, the Pataki for President Initiative is providing more than a few yucks. So why is he doing it?

There is a thing called the fickle finger of fame. Some people get “Peter Principled” to their level of natural incompetence. Once that fickle finger touches you, there is that eternal nagging question, “Could I have been a contender?” Maybe lightning will strike twice. Maybe I can recreate the magic that brought me to the top once before. Maybe the unseemly group of Republican contenders will cancel each other out. Maybe I’ll be the last man standing. No one gives him any chance, but no expert, including me, thought he had a shot when he ran for governor. Some called him a nebbish, some called him a “nobody,” and the most insulting of all, a classic “who-he?”

Because it is so unlikely that he can win the presidency, maybe he is looking for something else. Some think that he might like to be vice president, one heartbeat away from the presidency. In that scenario, a radical right candidate picks a moderate George Pataki as his running mate to reassure the Republican bankers and all the voters who think that the radical right is just too nutsy. New Yorker George Pataki just might bring some political balance to the ticket. But George hasn’t been a person of significance for a long time. He’s been basically forgotten. When the world changed on September 11, the present governor, Andrew Cuomo, in his most famous utterance to date, said that Pataki was just there to hold Rudolph Giuliani’s coat. People snickered.

Maybe Pataki wants more public recognition. People have suggested that he wants a permanent spot on Fox as a commentator. Perhaps the man just wants back in the game and is simply rolling the dice. I’m sure that his former team is encouraging him and helping. What do they have to lose? George Pataki is not going to be president but he must be having fun and he is assuring that we will, too.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 12/8/14
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