Admit it: when you heard that George Pataki was preparing a presidential campaign, you thought you heard wrong. Then you laughed. And then you laughed a little louder.
It’s O.K. You’re not alone. Plenty of New Yorkers very likely had the same reaction, just as they did four years ago when Mr. Pataki spent a few ill-advised months chasing votes in Iowa and New Hampshire before quietly giving up.
This time around, however, it might be wise to get past the laughter and sense of incredulity. That’s because the state of the Republican presidential campaign is such that George Pataki might well emerge as a voice of reason and intelligence in a race that has been dominated by the likes of Michele Bachmann, who recently promised that she would bring gas prices back to $2 a gallon, presumably through some form of Oval Office wizardry that only she is aware of. (Don’t Republicans like Ms. Bachmann oppose government intervention in the marketplace?)
Between Ms. Bachmann’s bizarre rantings and Rick Perry’s insistence that Fed chairman Ben Bernanke (an appointee of George W. Bush) is a traitor, the Republican Party seems intent on blowing an opportunity to challenge an admittedly weak Democratic incumbent.
Enter, perhaps, George Pataki, a three-term governor of New York who may not rank among the giants of Albany, but who certainly can articulate a more tolerant, more sane Republican agenda. Mr. Pataki was hardly a fiscal conservative as governor, but he did cut taxes, and he did stand up for immigrants’ and women’s rights, and he was quite a good governor on environmental and conservation issues.
Mr. Pataki never truly emerged as a national figure, as his predecessor Mario Cuomo did. He doesn’t have the charisma of some other Republican presidential candidates, loony though they may be.
But it is a measure of the Republican Party’s presidential campaign that George Pataki could emerge as a figure of some stature, as an adult in a room filled with screaming kids (save for Jon Huntsman, who hasn’t exactly caught on with the party’s rank and file). The former governor could speak with some passion about the importance of conserving natural resources—a concept that many of today’s Republican frontrunners view as akin to socialism.
He’s not a perfect candidate. He may not even be a serious candidate. But he certainly could be an important candidate—if he can articulate a vision of Republicanism that is more welcoming, less angry and more responsible than the version on display at the moment.