If the soon-to-be ex-governor’s chances are history, here’s what they look like
George Pataki’s chances of getting elected president appear—hmmm, what’s the diplomatic phrase to use here—non-existent. Of course, that’s what a lot of people said about George W. Bush back in the day. Had those fools simply looked at history, they would have noticed that in a time known as the late 1980s another person named George Bush somehow made it to the White House. Duh! Dubya was a legacy!
If history is a guide in 2008 as it was in 2000, Pataki might just have a shot. Three governors of New York have won the presidency: Martin Van Buren, Teddy Roosevelt, and, of course, (everyone, please rise) FDR. The two Roosevelts are considered among the best chief exec’s ever, and Van Buren probably has a rest stop named after him somewhere.
But the past also provides cautionary tales for Governor George. There was Gov. Thomas Dewey, who failed to beat FDR in 1944 and then somehow lost to Harry Truman in ’48. There was Gov. Al Smith, whose Catholic faith doomed him and the country to Herbert Hoover in 1928. And then there was Nelson Rockefeller.
Like Pataki, Rockefeller was a Republican governor who tried to pair a hard-line on crime (as in then Rockefeller Drug Laws) with moderation on social issues, and wanted to be president. Nellie managed to get elected four times to the top job in Albany, serving from 1959 to 1973. But in three tries for the White House (1960, 1964, 1968) he came up short. He then received the singular honor of being Gerald Ford’s vice president until 1976. Three years later he died of a heart attack while having sex with his mistress.
What separated FDR and Nelson Rockefeller? Both had money and the governor’s office. FDR might have had a tad more charisma. But his biggest advantage was good timing. He rolled the presidential dice when the country was looking for a fresh vote, while Rockefeller tried to run as a moderate in a Republican Party that was swinging from Richard Nixon to Barry Goldwater. Right now it looks like Pataki’s a mismatch for his party. But things change.
(For you Empire State trivia buffs, two other New York governors also made it to the White House—as the understudy:
Other than governors, four other New Yorkers have held the presidency or vice-presidency: