Imagine being trapped on a large boat, on a large lake, for three hours, with five of the Republican presidential candidates polling in the one percent range. Imagine further that you paid good money for the opportunity.
National Journal set out to divine why anyone would do that- from the candidates’ point of view. Their case study? Former New York Governor George Pataki.
MANY CANDIDATES WITH no chance of victory run for president because of conviction. Like, say, Ron Paul in 2012 or Bernie Sanders today, they have a set of issues they passionately want to advance.
This does not, as far as I can tell, apply to George Pataki. As Jonah Goldberg put it in a column last month, Pataki seems to be “pretending to have core convictions just so he can run.” Even the Pataki website motto—”People over politics”—suggests a desire to avoid serious thought. And such an impression is nothing new. As Pataki’s third term as governor of New York was winding down in 2005 and 2006,The New York Sun wrote that “one looks in vain to discern any principle or idea that Mr. Pataki stands for consistently.” Columnist Deroy Murdoch wrote in National Review that Pataki was “a politician of breathtaking mediocrity” whose “lack of competence, charisma, and character composes a sickening trifecta.” Kindest was The New York Times, which complained that under Pataki “reform was a talking point, not a doing point,” while nonetheless conceding that, overall, “New Yorkers are well aware that it is possible to do worse.”
...COUNTLESS PSYCHOLOGISTS HAVE studied the delusions of those who engage in long-shot gambling. One unsurprising finding is that few of us intuitively understand statistics. As Lloyd Christmas in Dumb and Dumber says to a love interest when she explains that his chances with her are one in a million, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” Other factors, as summarized in a 1998 article in theJournal of Gambling Studies, include “cognitive entrapment, a belief in hot and cold numbers, unrealistic optimism, a belief in personal luck, superstitious thinking, the illusion of control,” and “the erroneous perception of near misses.”
Perhaps Pataki’s previous gambles have given him an unrealistic sense of the odds involved in this newest venture. He unseated an incumbent when he ran for mayor of Peekskill in 1981. He knocked incumbents out of the state Assembly in 1984 and the state Senate in 1992. And everyone agrees that his victory over Cuomo was a remarkable upset, one pulled off by someone who’d garnered fewer than 90 mentions in The New York Times in all the years prior to 1994.
Indeed, it’s easy to see why, in Pataki’s eyes, 2016 might not look like such an impossible gamble. The very act of announcing a U.S. presidential candidacy, of commanding a podium and drawing a CNN crew and New York Times reporters, is something done by at most several hundred Americans over the past few decades. Just by getting that far, you are already one in a million. How much more of a leap is it really to become one in 300 million?
...Ashley Weinberg, a psychologist at the University of Salford who has interviewed dozens of former members of the British Parliament about why they liked their jobs, says that the phrase “being at the center of things” kept coming up. That yearning doesn’t require convictions. “You’re sensing things happening around you,” Weinberg says. “Which is quite different from whether you want specific things to happen around you.”