Can a political moderate presidential candidate like George Pataki actually affect the dialogue in Republican primaries? Will he be able to generate a stream of support that could revive the party’s dormant moderate wing? Will that stream of support be enough to propel him into even the second tier of viable Republican candidates?
“No, no, and no,” is the consensus response of Tom Horner, former Independence Party candidate for governor, and Steven Schier, political science professor at Carleton College.
But their reasons for dismissing the former New York governor’s moderating role in the campaign are different.
“Pataki wants to raise issues and encourage a difference kind of conversation that is not likely to occur without him,” Horner said. “But it’s hard to do that in a primary because primaries are all about ideology.”
Horner added, “As soon as a candidate starts to make a move away on core issues — immigration is a good example — if you say anything that is interpreted as amnesty you are pilloried.”
Schier also discounts Pataki’s ability to gain any traction — “Whatever impact he’s had has already occurred” — but he sees the possibility that such a large field of Republican candidates will generate some broadening of viewpoints.
“The biggest group of primary voters define themselves as somewhat conservative,” Schier said. “It’s not dominated by the far right. But there are a bunch of candidates that would appeal to that group.”
If Republican primary voters are looking for a candidate with more moderate social views, particularly on gay marriage, Schier believes there are more appealing candidates – namely Carly Fiorina and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Fiorna recently wrote on her Facebook page, “The debate about gay marriage is really a debate about how the government bestows benefits and whether they should be bestowed equally. I believe they should.”
Christie has straddled the issue by choosing not to fight the 2013 court decision that allowed gay marriages in New Jersey.
“[For a Republican primary voter] they are more mainstream and they can voice their views because they come from California and the northeast,” Schier said.
Schier and Horner do agree that Pataki’s candidacy has re-ignited the debate about moderates in the Republican Party. But while Schier believes the problem is Pataki as moderate messenger, Horner maintains that for the Republican party of 2015, the problem is the moderate message itself.