Former New York Gov. George Pataki chose Monday to launch a media blitz timed to coincide with his decision to explore a bid for the White House in 2016. Unless you are an avid consumer of cable news, the chances are that you missed this announcement.
The former three-term governor of the Empire State has been serious about making a run for the White House for some time, but his biggest obstacle to generating traction in the race may be the fact that he has maintained a relatively low profile since leaving office in 2006. Don’t tell that to Pataki, however. The former governor apparently believes that his relative anonymity is an asset.
In an appearance on Newsmax TV with Steve Malzberg, Pataki revealed his intention to form a Super PAC and another forthcoming trip to New Hampshire in preparation for a likely presidential campaign.
Malzberg observed that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took a thinly veiled shot at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush when he said in a statement that he believed it was time for a younger generation of Republican leaders to take the reins. “Well, that would be me,” Pataki asserted. “I’m relatively unknown. I’m new. I haven’t run in a while.”
Well, that’s one way to go about campaigning for the White House.
Malzberg’s interview with Pataki was informative, but it also reflected the perspective of a conservative interviewer. The majority of that interview was spent determining what Pataki brings to the 2016 table that the myriad other candidates seeking to lead the Republican Party and the nation do not. It was an informative discussion previewing how Pataki would approach the primaries if he commits to a run.
The line of questioning to which Pataki was subjected by MSNBC’s hosts, however, varied dramatically. In a Monday morning hit with the hosts of Morning Joe, Pataki was asked to define his general election themes and how he would campaign for the White House against a Democratic candidate.
Pataki excoriated the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for what he characterized as a sustained campaign of antagonism toward law enforcement. He went on to indict the Obama administration’s engineering of the economic recovery by noting that Washington D.C. and the surrounding suburbs have benefited the most from a ballooning federal government. Finally, the former governor said that what motivates him to run is not only the state of the nation but the perilously deteriorating international security environment.
When Donny Deutsch admittedly rattled off what he called “Obama talking points” about the efficacy of his administration’s approach to counterterrorism, the economic recovery, rescuing the automotive industry, and opening Cuba, Pataki laughed. “A lot of positive checkpoints for a president,” Deutsch insisted amid Pataki’s guffaws. “I don’t see it so bad in this country.”
Deutsch’s line of questioning is revealing. He is reflective of a dwindling but committed progressive, pro-Obama base that will be applying a significant amount of pressure on Hillary Clinton to run for the president’s third term in office. If she followed this advice, she would likely lose. Even if Democrats had a record on the economy and national security that satisfied a majority of voters, it’s exceedingly rare for a two-term president to be succeeded by a member of their own party (See: Gore, Al). The Deutschs of this country will be quite discouraged when Clinton runs, as she must, as a Democrat committed to moving on from the Obama era.
But Pataki’s response was informative. “5.6 unemployment is great?” he asked. “Almost a half-trillion dollar deficit adding to a record deficit is great? NO middle-class income improvement in probably 20 years is great? Save the oil industry? It’s the private sector through fracking and technology that, in spite of Obama, created this energy boom.”
How did MSNBC News characterize this clip? “Pataki: US doing well in spite of Obama.” Never change, you guys.
It was a fine response, though not an especially compelling one. It certainly won’t help Pataki stand out among the “establishment” Republicans vying for the nomination. Republican voters are not hungering for a figure who will better manage American decline. Republicans want to vote for a candidate of reform – the broad, transformative kind – and the Obama presidency’s overreach has provided Republicans with a once-in-a-generation window to push the American cultural pendulum back in a conservative direction. Playing it safe will not enthuse these voters and, thus, will underwhelm the party’s donor class.
Pataki seems like he is serious about running for president, but he is not talking like a candidate in touch with the desires of the GOP base. If he wants to run and win, he will settle on an appeal to conservatives that does not seem founded on the hope that he can emerge as the last establishment candidate standing after Chris Christie and Jeb Bush tear each other apart.