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The Editorial Board: Pataki offers his party a path from its ruinous adoration of Trump

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Former New York Gov. George Pataki campaigns for Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin last month. On Sunday, Pataki told Fox News that Donald Trump is tearing the party apart and blamed Zeldin's support of the former president for his loss to Kathy Hochul in last week's elections.

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It’s late in the game, with Donald Trump announcing a third bid for the presidency on Tuesday, but Republicans are belatedly beginning to acknowledge the wreckage that former president has made of their party. Among the leaders in this state is former New York Gov. George Pataki, a consistent critic of Trump.

His new comments are especially important because if any state is able to lead the party back toward political sanity, it’s New York – and, on their own, New York Republicans need to find their way out of the wilderness. The party hasn’t won a statewide election here since Pataki secured his third term in 2002 – two decades ago.

Speaking on Sunday about last week’s elections, Pataki was blunt. “The problem is Donald Trump,” he said on Fox News. “The sooner he goes, the sooner we’ll have the new Republican Party.” That’s necessary, he said, because the former president “is now tearing apart the Republican Party.” Let that sink in.

In truth, though, Trump has been bloodying the GOP’s reputation since his first campaign, when he sought to incite violence against protesters while party regulars stood mutely by. But never mind; better late than never.

Pataki, who knows something about New York politics, also blamed the defeat of Lee Zeldin, the party’s gubernatorial nominee, squarely on the candidate’s blind support of Trump. Additional factors – abortion and guns among them – surely entered into Gov. Kathy Hochul’s victory, but voters’ disapproval of Trump was clearly a significant influence.

Still, it shouldn’t take a former Republican governor to make that point in a deep blue state – one whose residents Trump had abused in 2020 when, on false pretenses, he capriciously excluded them from the federal trusted traveler program. A court eventually overturned that illegitimate action, but the point was made: It’s all about Trump, not responsible policy. It’s a fact that too many Republicans have been loath to acknowledge.

Some still don’t. Nicholas Langworthy, the soon-to-be-former state Republican leader has long been a Trump supporter. Newly elected to Western New York’s 23rd Congressional District, he shows no sign of coming to his senses. The same goes for Rep. Claudia Tenney, just elected to the reconfigured 24th Congressional District, which includes part of Niagara County. So far, at least, both seem ready to feed the fire burning through their party rather than following Pataki’s lead and grabbing a hose.

Perhaps worst of all is Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York’s North Country. Stefanik replaced a bona fide Republican patriot, the ousted Liz Cheney, as the No. 3 leader in the party’s House caucus. Not only can she not bring herself to acknowledge Trump’s blistering toxicity, but her political judgment is as bad as her idol’s: Stefanki’s political action committee promoted similarly deluded candidates who went on to lose races that Republicans might well have won. Among them was New Hampshire congressional candidate Karoline Leavitt, a former assistant in Trump’s White House press office. She was trounced, 56%-46% by Democrat Chris Pappas.

The good news is that other Republicans are trying to distance the party from the former president’s cancerous influence. They range from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who observed that Trump has undermined Republicans in three consecutive elections, to the more tentative criticism offered by former Vice President Mike Pence, whose life Trump endangered as the rioting mob of Jan. 6, 2021, surged through the Capitol. “It was clear he decided to be part of the problem,” Pence told ABC News.

It’s fair to observe that Republicans such as Pataki and the term-limited Hogan have less to fear from Trump’s fervor for retribution than do Langworthy, Tenney and Stefanik. But that answer to that is “so, what?” Time to put on your grown-up pants.

The party, including New York’s, is cracking under Trump’s destructive dominance. New York can help it find the way back, but Pataki can’t do it on his own. Cheney understood that her duty was to the country, not her party. Others still need to learn that essential lesson. Will they?

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