Who Is George Pataki?: A Primer

Terrance Heath
George Pataki - Caricature

Image via Donkey Hotey @ Flickr.

George Pataki has announced his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, bringing the number of official candidates to eight. In case you’re among those asking “George who?,” here’s a primer.

George Pataki is the former three-term governor of New York, occupying the office from 1995 to 2006. While he was governor of New York during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pataki hasn’t gotten nearly as much mileage out of it as former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. In fact, after nearly nine years out of the public spotlight, Pataki admits, “People don’t know who I am.”

As he barely registers in a Republican field already overrun with long-shot candidates, reminding voters just who he is will be Pataki’s biggest task as a candidate. It might not be enough to win him the nomination.

Pataki is a “small government,” budget-cutting, tax-cutting conservative.

That Pataki’s first two years as governor of New York earned him an “A” on the Cato Institute’s Fiscal Policy Report Card on America’s Governors is a pretty good indicator of where he is on fiscal policy. Pataki earned his “A” by eliminating 12,000 of the state’s 200,000 government jobs, cutting spending by $2 billion, and cutting the personal income tax by 25 percent.

That’s not to say Pataki never increased taxes, or spending. He backed two increases in the cigarette tax. (The same one conservatives blamed for Eric Garner’s death.) He proposed a $1.5 billion bond issue for infrastructure, and increased spending by 67 percent for fiscal years 1997 to 2007. Cato dropped his grade to a “D” by the end of his term.

So, which Pataki is running for president? His website is short on detailed positions on the issues. But lately, Pataki is sounding like his old self. He’s promised to lower federal income tax rates overall, get rid of most exemptions, and cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.

Pataki wants another ground war. This time with ISIS.

In September, at the International Association of Fire Fighters presidential forum, Pataki warned that the U.S. faces a far more dangerous terrorist threat than it did before 9/11. In a recent interview on CNN’s “New Day,” Pataki said that he would “not be averse” to putting American boots on the ground to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.

The last thing the country needs is to foot the bill for another quagmire halfway around the world. Americans’ appetite for war will dampen considerably when reminded how much it cost us the last time a Republican president led us into war.

Pataki really hates the Affordable Care Act.

In an interview with Newsmax on the fifth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, Pataki called it the “worst law” of his lifetime.

“I can’t say ‘ever,’ but in my lifetime I don’t think there’s been as big a law that’s had as negative an impact,” Pataki, who is considering a run for the White House, said on Newsmax TV’s “MidPoint.”

“It is wrong, it should be repealed, it’s unconstitutional,” he continued. “But most important, we have got to pass an alternative and get this out of the way.”

One of the things Pataki did during his time out of office was to start Revere America, an anti-Obamacare organization. Not that anyone noticed. Pataki stepped down from leading Revere America in 2012, and the organization was defunct as of 2014. Again, not that anyone noticed.

Pataki has criticized Republicans’ focus on social issues as a “distraction.”

Pataki, who signed a gay rights bill into law as governor of New York, is one of few Republicans willing to tell his party the truth: that focusing on social issues like gay rights and abortion is a “distraction” that will only hurt the party’s chances of taking back the White House.

“Defeating Islamic terrorists, shrinking government, growing the economy – these are the issues that matter most,” Pataki says in the 30 second ad obtained by CNN. “These are the issues that matter most. Instead we’re debating social issues like abortion and gay rights. They are a distraction, and will only help elect Hillary.”

He’s right, of course. But since when do Republicans listen to someone just because he’s right? Pataki thinks the GOP would be better served to leave those issues to the states (where Republicans happen to have a lock on many legislatures and governorships). An increasing number of Republicans seem to be moving away from spending much time discussing such issues. But the GOP base won’t let them ignore social issues completely. So, the party will continue to pay the price for drifting farther out of the mainstream.

Pataki blamed President Obama for the shooting deaths of two NYPD officers.

Pataki was among the first conservatives who rushed to politicize the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. The two officers were fatally shot as they sat in their patrol car, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. The shooter was later identified as Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley, a mentally unstable ex-con. Prior to the shooting, Brinsley left messages on his Instagram account that he intended to execute police officers in retribution for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Brinkley committed suicide, shooting himself after fleeing into the subway to escape responding officers.

So, who did Pataki blame for the shooting? Pataki echoed the sentiments of police union president Pat Lynch, with a tweet blaming the officers’ deaths on President Obama, attorney general Eric Holder, and New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.

The shooter? Not so much.

Pataki has almost no chance of winning the GOP nomination.

In some other decade, George Pataki would have been a shoo-in for the GOP presidential nomination. His commitment to “fiscal conservatism” is reminiscent of George W. Bush, whose presidency — ironically enough — transformed the Republican party into one that won’t even consider nominating someone like Pataki. Were that enough, Pataki might have a shot.

Pataki’s problem is that he’s too “liberal” for GOP primary voters. He’s in favor of things like abortion rights and gay marriage. He’s something of an environmentalist. As governor, he signed some of the strongest anti-gun legislation in the country. And he’s pro-science. Pataki spoke in support of vaccinations at a town hall in Keene State University in New Hampshire, telling the audience, “Everything must be science-based.”

Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight charts Pataki as the least conservative of the GOP presidential candidates.


That means Pataki, in a party where only 35 percent identify as liberal, has no chance of winning the nomination.

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