It's official: George Pataki is out of the 2016 presidential race. After early reports surfaced on Tuesday, rumors that the former New York governor would be calling it quits were finally confirmed when Pataki himself took to the airwaves and announced he would be suspending his campaign indefinitely. While several news outlets pointed to the former candidate's poor fundraising efforts as the reason for his announcement, however, the reality was that rival Republican Donald Trump had been Pataki's worst nightmare from the day the billionaire launched his campaign in June — and with Pataki out, that could spell disaster for the remaining bottom-tier candidates.
On paper, Pataki should have been the GOP's golden boy: He was smart, accomplished, and had a resume that most presidential hopefuls would envy. However, the Republican Party of 2008 has long since fallen into shambles. In its place, a more assertive, dominating right wing arm has found its voice, with candidates like Trump and Ted Cruz leading the charge.
"Trump and [Pataki] were rooting around in the cellar of the field for a while," wrote The Washington Post's Phillip Bump in a column on Tuesday, charting out the early GOP polling results, which at the time had both the billionaire mogul and the former governor at 3 percent respectively. "But in short order Trump's embrace of hard-right immigration policies, his feud with Univision, among other headline grabbers, launched him into the stratosphere. There wasn't much for Pataki to do but stick around, hoping that somehow the history of the universe would reorder itself."
Of course, as voters saw on Tuesday, it didn't. Despite months of attempts at bringing a moderate edge to the Republican field, Pataki eventually lost out to what could only be described as the Trump effect — a hard swing to the right that left plenty of people feeling uneasy about the future of the GOP.
In early 2013, just months after the Republican Party suffered a stunning loss, with Mitt Romney conceding the presidency to incumbent Barack Obama, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus outlined what he believed was behind the GOP's failings in recent election years. Extremism and the alienation of women, Latinos, and the LGBTQ community were among the top culprits.
"Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights" of minority groups, wrote Priebus, in a statement that March. "For many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be." Rather than embracing the evolution of the American electorate, Priebus explained, the GOP had instead been co-opted by a brand of fringe extremism that eventually led to its downfall. "The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself," he added. "We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue."
Unfortunately, if today's news is any indication, it seems that Republicans have all but forgotten Priebus' advice, opting instead to sensationalize themselves in an attempt to follow in Trump's derogatory footsteps — a trend that, while continually shocking, is not exactly new.
First there was Trump's own campaign announcement speech in June, which included a slew of insults directed toward Mexican immigrants and Chinese businessmen. Then there was the infamous Trump/Megyn Kelly feud in August, in which the billionaire launched into a days-long tirade against the Fox News lead anchor over what he felt was unfair treatment at the party's first primary debate (that hostility continues to this day). Then the rest of the party got involved, with retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson comparing abortion to slavery and Ted Cruz insisting that climate change wasn't real — and for Pataki, it was pretty much all over.
Not that he didn't try to fight back. In September, perhaps hoping to match the right-wing's gusto and steal away some of Trump's limelight for himself, Pataki tweeted that he would not vote for the front-runner if Trump were to eventually win the nomination. "Let me be very plain," he wrote. "I'm not going to vote for @RealDonaldTrump ... He is unfit to be president." While the statement earned Pataki a spot in the headlines, his fame was short-lived. Just three days later, at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, Pataki was once again relegated to the kiddie-table undercard debate ahead of the main primary showdown.
For what it's worth, you can't really blame Pataki for trying. In previous elections, centrism hasn't necessarily been the death blow that most people think it is today. Unfortunately, this time around, Pataki just didn't have enough fighting spirit to take on Donald Trump and the Right Wing Machine — and ultimately, that was his downfall. If nothing else, perhaps Pataki's collapse might serve as a warning to other moderate Republicans hoping to wait out the extremism of the 2016 election for better days: Get out, and get out now.