Monday, October 1, 2007

The Rudy factor

Rudolph Giuliani, the man dubbed America’s mayor and who seeks to be America’s next president, is a complicated cuss – has been since he was Mayor of New York City. Never a by-the-book Republican, Giuliani has so far parlayed his role as (for want of better shorthand) Mr. 9/11 into a stronger-than-expected bid for the presidency.

But some of the issues that have dogged him since he was mayor of NYC are following him onto the national stage – not the least of them being a thin skin about his personal life and a debatable sensitivity to minority concerns. Now, more recent reports suggest Giuliani has a smug certainty about his ability to defeat the Democratic nominee – pre-empting any mention of the rest of the Republican field trying to do the same thing.

It’s been his stump statement in any of his stump speeches: “I'm the only Republican candidate who can beat Hillary Clinton." His Republican rivals would beg to differ.

It’s not just a manifestation of confidence bordering on hubris. With such statements -- and actions like crossing the pond to shake hands with and raise campaign funds from expatriate Americans in Great Britain, the better to make himself look presidential -- Giuliani’s clearly put cart before horse. It takes more than a spread-collar shirt and a silver tie to convincingly pull off the president-presumptive act.

Given the competition, and his standing in the polls, he may not have a choice. In various recent opinion polls Giuliani has placed a reliable third behind former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson. Making an argument for his own inevitability may be his only option right now.

"This is his best strategy for getting from here to there, given who he is, where he comes from, and where the minefields are," said Stephen Hess, a George Washington University professor who has worked in several Republican administrations. "It's out of necessity ... unless he wants to recreate himself," Hess told Liz Sidoti of the Associated Press in a recent interview.

The minefields are formidable. Giuliani breaks ranks with his Republican counterparts – and most of the GOP voters he’s courting – with his liberal-to-moderate positions on hot-button values issues like abortion and gay rights, and a past record of backing gun-control measures.

That’s the big challenge the Rudy camp faces: finding a way to get those rock-ribbed Republicans to look the other way on those issues, and reaching out to a broader constituency of Americans who, after seven years of the Bush White House and four years of war, have had enough of GOP governance. “Uphill climb” doesn’t begin to express the challenge he faces.

“He's asking them to overlook what he doesn't offer — right-leaning views on cultural issues they care about — for what he says he does offer: the best opportunity for Republicans to thwart another Clinton presidency,” Sidoti observed in a Sept. 30 story.

That’s a huge problem for a party eager to re-establish its own bona fides with a public disgusted with GOP scandals, judicial failures and a president whose dead certainty about the need for an elective war in Iraq has rifled the national treasury, robbed the nation of thousands of soldiers’ lives and broken the finest armed forces in the world. For Giuliani to prevail, those conservative voters would have to reject the very values their party stands for.

Giuliani has tried to pimp his Mr. 9/11 role from New York City to the nation as a whole, effectively pursuing a campaign no less one-note than Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, whose anti-immigration platform is not so much a platform as a plank. But Giuliani is no more the inevitable Republican nominee than the Republicans are the inevitable victors in 2008.

And even if he wins the nomination, Giuliani faces the task of establishing not just a difference between himself and the other candidates, Democrat and Republican. He’s got to make the case he’s different – different enough – from the Republican incumbent he hopes to replace in the White House.

Matt Taibbi understands this. Writing in Rolling Stone in May, Taibbi noted that “[Giuliani’s] political strength -- and he knows it -- comes from America's unrelenting passion for never bothering to take that extra step to figure shit out. If you think you know it all already, Rudy agrees with you. And if anyone tries to tell you differently, they're probably traitors, and Rudy, well, he'll keep an eye on 'em for you. Just like Bush, Rudy appeals to the couch-bound bully in all of us, and part of the allure of his campaign is the promise to put the Pentagon and the power of the White House at that bully's disposal. …”

“To the extent that conservatism in the Bush years has morphed into a celebration of mindless patriotism and the paranoid witch-hunting of liberals and other dissenters, Rudy seems the most anxious of any Republican candidate to take up that mantle. Like Bush, Rudy has repeatedly shown that he has no problem lumping his enemies in with 'the terrorists' if that's what it takes to get over.”

A weary, Bushed America may not be ready for Bush III. “I’m electable,” Rudy Giuliani screams again and again. At this point, maybe he should consider seeking the one office he could maybe still make that credible claim for – repeating as the mayor of New York.
Image credit: Jason Bedrick, released to public domain

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