Pataki Assails Washington GOP for Election-Year 'Blunders'

Adam Nagourney, The New York Times
December 23, 1998 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

Declaring that Republicans in Washington had undermined the party with a series of "horrible blunders" this year, Gov. George E. Pataki said Tuesday that elected officials from beyond the nation's capital were more in tune with Republican ideology and better suited to help the party regain the White House in 2000. Pataki announced that he would travel the nation to offer alternatives to the "failed strategies" his party had embraced.

Pataki's criticisms of his own party, voiced in a series of conversations over the last two weeks, were harsh, and directed both at Congressional leaders, for the way they handled the national elections, and, to a lesser extent, at his own political consultants for the way they ran Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato's unsuccessful re-election campaign.

Although Pataki assailed Republicans for neglecting their cornerstone issues to focus on President Clinton's relationship with an intern, he declined Tuesday to criticize the House vote to impeach Clinton on Saturday. But he strongly urged the Senate to "come up with a bipartisan solution" that, he said, would not involve removing Clinton from office.

Pataki's remarks strongly suggested that he viewed the party's overall handling of the issue throughout the year as emblematic of the way Republican leaders in Washington had drifted from the issues that are of concern to voters.

"Republicans have governed highly successfully across the country, in traditionally Republican states and traditionally Democratic states, with a philosophy that works, that unites the Republican Party, and that unites the Republican Party with a majority of the American people," Pataki said.

"It's only in Washington -- largely in Washington -- where the national party has lost that agenda, has gone off on tangents, has had a very difficult time transitioning from opposition to governing," Pataki added.

The Governor's remarks came as his advisers say he is considering a run for national office, and at a time when some Republicans suggest that Pataki's own solid re-election effort could be tarnished by the otherwise poor showing of the New York Republican Party last month, with losses by both D'Amato and the incumbent Attorney General, Dennis C. Vacco. Pataki is by nature a measured politician who has generally resisted getting drawn into a discussion of his own ambitions or ideas about how the national Republican Party should conduct itself. His decision to travel the nation and discuss the subject, and to draw a critical contrast between Republicans in Congress and governors like himself, left little doubt that he wanted Republicans nationally to consider his ideas -- and, perhaps, Pataki himself -- in assembling their ticket and platform for 2000.

That said, Pataki was vague about his exact political intentions. He would not rule out running for national office in 2000. But he also said he was now considering seeking a third term as governor in 2002, notwithstanding his strong advocacy of two-term limits on public officials when he first ran for governor in 1994.

Pataki was definitive on one subject: He said he had no interest in the Senate seat that will open up in 2000 with the retirement of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat. It is more likely, he said, "that the Hindenburg would come back together."

In the interviews, Pataki asserted that Republicans in Washington had neglected touchstone conservative issues -- reducing taxes, slashing Government regulation, cutting the welfare rolls and promoting "a strong national defense" -- in the rush to focus on President Clinton's personal life and issues like opposition to abortion rights and gay rights.

It fell to Republican governors like himself, Pataki said, to attempt to steer the party back to the successful course it followed under Ronald Reagan, which he said accounted for the party's dominance in the 1980's.

Pataki animatedly rejected the suggestion by many Republicans that his party would never nominate a Northeastern moderate like himself. And he offered a novel retort to the suggestion that Republicans like himself, who favor abortion rights and some gay rights, could never survive the generally conservative Republican nominating process: He maintained that he held the "truly conservative" viewpoint on both those issues.

"I am a conservative," Pataki said. "But I believe in limited government. I happen to think that limited government includes keeping government out of the private lives of people. I consider that to be a natural extension of the belief in individual privacy.

"I don't want the Democrats in Washington taking our money from our wallets and telling us how to spend it," he said. "Nor do I think that Republicans in Washington should be telling our wives and daughters what they should be doing with their individual lives. In both cases, limited government, more individual freedom. I think this is truly conservative, more in keeping with a conservative viewpoint."

Pataki has done a fair amount of traveling across the country this year, though mostly for the purpose of fund-raising. His aides said the details of forthcoming trips, intended to offer his opinion on what the party should be doing, had not been worked out.

Pataki pointed to Ronald Reagan as an example of the tone and philosophy the party needed to return to. He said, "Ronald Reagan was pro-life but he had a tremendous positive message, of morning in America, and less dependency on Washington, and dramatic tax cuts, and an end to the evil empire and a strong global America, a belief in limited government."

Pataki disdainfully contrasted Reagan's approach with the one advanced by Republicans in November. "It was a failed strategy that didn't work," he said. "If we had talked about these concepts -- expanding the economy, cutting taxes, helping the states deal with the problems they have, having a strong defense that allows America to protect our citizens at home and abroad -- we would have had the victories we didn't have."