For some unfathomable reason, former New York Gov. George Pataki is now a presidential candidate.
The biggest problem for Pataki isn’t that he has been away from elected office for too long, or that he has never been a particularly dynamic candidate, or even that he’s too liberal overall for a very conservative party. Those things are all true, and, yes, each of them would probably doom his effort anyway.
But that doesn’t matter. The highest hurdle for Pataki is that he’s pro-choice in a party that has a large organized group with an absolute veto against presidential candidates who believe in abortion rights.
Here’s a brief history, in reverse chronological order, of pro-choice candidates running for president as Republicans since it became an anti-abortion party:
Gary Johnson, an ex-governor of New Mexico, tried in 2012, making it all the way to December 2011 before dropping out and switching to the Libertarian Party.
In 2008, Rudy Giuliani actually made it to the primaries, finishing third in Florida before dropping out.
Arlen Specter and Pete Wilson both tried in the 1996 cycle. Neither survived to the Iowa caucuses.
Let’s just go all the way back to George H.W. Bush’s campaign for the GOP nomination in 1980. He supported abortion rights until he became Ronald Reagan’s running mate. Bush won primaries or caucuses in seven states; when he captured Michigan on May 20, 1980, it was the last time anyone who was suspect on abortion won a Republican presidential primary.
That’s it. I may have missed one or more candidates who dropped out very early in the process, but if so that isn’t encouraging.
It turns out that Giuliani’s dud of a campaign was by far the most successful for any pro-choice candidate since 1980.
If someone is determined to run and take a beating, no one can force him or her to drop out. We don’t know if Pataki will drop out long before the Iowa caucuses or if he'll wait around to contest (and get drubbed in) New Hampshire.
What we do know is that even in the extremely unlikely event his candidacy receives a polling surge, Pataki isn’t remotely in a position to capitalize on it. Next!
Of course, the Democrats are mirror images on the issue; no one who dissented on abortion rights has had any chance in a party presidential primary over the same period, and numerous Democratic contenders have flipped their position before running – just as Republicans from George H.W. Bush to Mitt Romney have done.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.