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Marcus Molinaro is the Republican nominee for governor. He is smart, reasonable and well-spoken. The Republican Party is none of those. Molinaro is carrying a 2-ton weight on his shoulders — the Republican brand.
It’s likely to drag him down in November. What can he do to reinvent the Republican Party?
It turns out he’s been given a giant gift, in the unlikely form of Carl Paladino.
The irrepressible, irresponsible and irrelevant Paladino has strode forward as the Trumpish candidate for replacing the equally Trumpish but disgraced Rep. Chris Collins of New York’s 27th Congressional District. Republican leaders are trying to figure out how to dump Collins as their November candidate and who to replace him with.
A Paladino candidacy would leave Molinaro with a sizable and irreconcilable problem. Disown Paladino and his racist, extremist, nutty and divisive baggage or establish forever that Republicans are the party of yesterday and no renewal is planned by its leader.
If Molinaro really wants to win the governor’s race, or at least emerge as the credible face of a new GOP, he has a shining example of what to do. His role model is none other than the redoubtable Bill Clinton.
In the midst of his successful 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton seized on awful remarks by Sister Souljah, a black activist rap artist. He loudly criticized her, Jesse Jackson and others for tolerating incitement to racial violence. It had the political effect of bolstering Clinton’s centrist credentials and was viewed as a strategic masterpiece.
Molinaro can achieve the same boost in centrist credentials by publicly deploring and opposing a Paladino congressional candidacy. This would quickly resonate with voters willing to consider a Republican for governor if given a good reason.
It could also alienate the considerable number of Trumpish voters who find Paladino to be an acceptable standard bearer for the party of Lincoln, Rockefeller and Pataki.
This kind of mathematical calculation is a normal part of politics: Do I pick up more votes than I lose? It’s difficult to know.
But Molinaro would be well served by broadening his thinking. He’s not likely to win in 2018 no matter what he does. His future rests on his ability to recreate the Republican brand and impress voters as a man of vision and principle even if they’re not voting for him right yet.
And he ought not to wait for the announcement of Paladino’s fate. Now, today, is the time to seize the moment and lead his party. It’s a golden opportunity.
Even better, it’s the right thing to do, regardless of the political calculus. Paladino has said things that Molinaro knows to be offensive and downright wrong. This is more than a political challenge; it’s an ethical challenge. I know him well enough to believe he has the values and courage he needs to take a difficult step. He needs to follow his own moral compass. It may or may not be that he will also profit electorally, but it’s the right thing to do.
Candidates don’t always get to chose the defining moments of their campaigns. The Paladino ascendancy has been thrust upon Molinaro and we are entitled to judge, to praise or protest, and to vote according to what he does. And we will.
This Richard Brodsky Commentary was first published by TimesUnion on Monday, September 3, 2018.
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Richard Brodsky is a former New York State Assembly member.