Politics & Policy

Hope for a Marathon, Not a Sprint

A long, adversarial primary campaign will only strengthen the Republican field.

Former New York governor George Pataki personifies almost everything I dislike in politicians. He’s not corrupt — as far as I know — in the criminal sense, but he’s entirely corrupt politically and intellectually. He goes along to get along, with his colleagues and donors, with liberal pieties and the editorial boards that spew them. He was a lazy governor who often worked no more than 15 hours a week, and over his twelve years in office he held at most three cabinet meetings.

He “broke virtually every political promise he ever made,” according the New York Post’s legendary state editor Fred Dicker, and was so shameless in his lack of principles, integrity, and loyalty that former senator Al D’Amato — the sort of man best pictured swimming a moat at night with a knife in his teeth — said of his protégé: “What he did broke my heart.”

#ad#He left New York on the precipice of economic ruin and the state Republican party a shambles.

Oh, and Pataki is also the author of what I have long considered the single dumbest prepared statement in modern political history.

“It is conceivable,” Pataki said in 2000 when he signed a hate-crimes bill into law, “that if this law had been in effect 100 years ago, the greatest hate crime of all, the Holocaust, could have been avoided.”

You could write several Ph.D. dissertations on why that is idiotic. Though I do like the image of Hitler having his hands tied by a hate-crimes law, because, you know, there were no laws against genocidal murder when he came into power. “Meine Herren,” Hitler would have to tell his comrades in the Eagle’s Nest, “I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do.”

At this point you might think that this is a column about George Pataki. You might even suspect that I’m launching a preemptive strike on him in response to rumors that he’s pondering a presidential run.

Nope. The truth is, I want him to run, and not just because I enjoy watching baloney charge the grinder.

There’s a lot of grumbling and moping on the Right about how the Republican base doesn’t like the current field of candidates. I’m not wholly unsympathetic. I’d like to see several other names touted as top contenders, starting with Rep. Paul Ryan. I fear many of the candidates have significant flaws in terms of experience, temperament, skills, electability, or ideology. In fact, there’s not one declared candidate I’m completely comfortable with.

And you know what? That’s okay. That’s what primaries are for. Let ’em all duke it out, steel-cage style. Let Pataki get in and explain why any non-glue-sniffer should want him to be president. He might serve as a useful foil.

I suspect that the main reason many conservatives are so dismayed by the field is not that they find the current crop so unacceptable. It’s the sense that the contenders aren’t up to beating Obama, or, if they are now, that they wouldn’t be after a bruising primary battle.

But I think that’s wrong. In 2007, the idea that Barack Obama could beat Hillary Clinton, never mind be the next president, was laughable. The 2008 Democratic primary was the most bruising primary contest in years. And guess what? The Democrats emerged stronger from it. Not only did the fight make Obama a better candidate, his ultimate victory over Hillary actually became one of his biggest selling points. Whenever Obama was asked if he’d ever run anything of significance, he’d point to his presidential campaign. (What else could he point to?)

In fact, my worry is not that the GOP will have a bruising primary fight that almost goes to the convention; my worry is that it won’t have one. It would generate massive resentment on the right if we have the same old coronation ritual for the next Republican in line. But if everyone’s allowed to have their say and take their best shot, only to lose in the end, odds are the party will be in better shape.

Also, Obama wants an opponent as soon as possible. He’s never had to run on a record, and he’s desperate to make the election a choice between him and someone he can demonize. The longer it is before an opponent emerges, the more the election becomes a referendum on Obama.

So take your time, Republicans. Hash it all out. Even let Pataki join the discussion. Just make sure you have hand puppets and some shiny blocks to help explain the tougher concepts to him.

— Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Onlinand a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him by e-mail at JonahsColumn@aol.com, or via Twitter@JonahNRO. © 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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