Opinion

Has Rudy Giuliani’s moment passed?

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Stewart Lawrence
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      Stewart Lawrence

      Stewart J. Lawrence is a Washington, D.C.-based public policy analyst who writes frequently on immigration and Latino affairs. He is also founder and managing director of Puentes & Associates, Inc., a bilingual survey research and communications firm.

When I first heard that former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was considering a second bid for the GOP nomination, my immediate reaction was: Who’s next, Fred Thompson?

I hate to sound cynical, but do Republicans really need to revive the ghosts-of-GOP-presidential-campaigns-past to try to breathe new life into this year’s race?

Don’t get me wrong, Giuliani’s still a stand-up guy, and his political support for GOP candidates is most welcome. There was a reason he was the presumptive front-runner four years ago. His reputation as a tough cop-turned-mayor who reduced crime, cleaned up Times Square, and honorably presided over the Big Apple after the disaster of 9/11 was impeccable.

In fact, it appeared, for a while, that he might even get the nod. He was leading the entire GOP field by a wide margin — including John McCain by 15-20 points — in nearly every major poll taken before the race began in earnest.

Then the improbable happened — or perhaps just the absurd. Giuliani, for reasons known only to him, decided to skip the early primaries, thinking that he could enter the campaign late and still win.

Hailed as “brilliant” by some wild-eyed Giuliani supporters, including talk show host Glenn Beck, the strategy was a total disaster. By the time Giuliani ran in Florida, where he finished a dismal third, McCain was cruising to victory and Rudy’s one-time competitive bid for the presidency was over.

Why try again? Mainly because the party, four years later, is hopelessly divided between backers of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose support remains tepid at best, and those still on the fence who appear to support “Anyone But Mitt” (ABM).

The ABM crowd ranges from hard-core Christian evangelicals on the “right” to establishment GOP moderates on the “left.” Apparently, they don’t think Romney has the strength of character, political consistency, or charisma to beat Obama. And most major GOP funders — whose support can make or break a political candidate — seem to agree, because they’ve yet to commit to any one candidate and won’t until Romney or someone else “breaks out.”

Could that “someone else” be Giuliani? A recent CNN poll indicates that Giuliani retains significant name recognition and perhaps more than a little credibility, too.

The poll found 16% of GOP voters favoring Giuliani for the nomination, placing him just ahead of Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, with Herman Cain, who’s been surging of late, not far behind.

But it’s not clear how Giuliani’s expected entry into the race will help things — either by healing current divisions or by enhancing the GOP’s standing with moderate voters.

In 2008, America was still looking for bin Laden, and Giuliani was still fresh in people’s minds. He’d spoken at the 2004 GOP convention and made a strong impression. His time, it appeared, had come.

Now, his time seems to have passed. His record cutting taxes and balancing the budget as New York City’s mayor remains intact, but Rudy’s been out of power — and the limelight — for some time. And like Newt Gingrich, who’s already stumbled badly, his sense of the current landscape may well be skewed, and his political instincts rusty. He’s also 67 — and shows it.

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  • stewlaw2009

    Writeblock –

    South Carolina is a “bellwether” because no GOP candidate since 1980 has won the nomination without winning that state’s primary. It’s also been critical to Democratic nominees. When Clinton won there in 1992, he started his march to the nomination.

    Again, this is the logic of the primary system and until that system changes, it makes no sense to project victors based solely on how they might do in the general election, with the votes of independents as your sole, or least, main criterion.

    That is, if you want anyone in your party to ring doorbells, hold house meetings, and get out the vote for you.

  • writeblock

    The above article questions whether Rudy’s time has come and gone. Lawrence writes, “In 2008, America was still looking for bin Laden, and Giuliani was still fresh in people’s minds. He’d spoken at the 2004 GOP convention and made a strong impression.” Lawrence suggests that was then and this is now.

    I disagree. Rudy has been part of the American scene since he was Asst. Attorney General for Reagan back in the eighties. He’s never been apart from the spotlight. As US Attorney he made headlines going after the junk bond king Michael Milken and corrupt Wall Street billionaire Ivan Boesky. Then he made headlines going after the Mafia, sending their dons to prison for long stretches. In the nineties as Mayor of NYC he revolutionized crime-fighting, lowered taxes, instituted workfare, consolidated agencies, fired deadwood bureaucrats, privatized public properties–and miraculously achieving what most pundits said was impossible. He did what he’d promised to do–and made headlines all along the way.

    And then 9/11 happened. More headlines. He’s been in the news ever since–at the convention in 2004, running for president in 2007, campaigning for Rubio, Brown and Christie in 2010 as part of the tea party wave, the only GOP leader asked to do so–and even now, speculating about another run. Nobody’s forgotten him. Wherever he goes he makes news and is followed by crowds of fans. He’s made an indelible mark on the nation’s psyche over the course of three decades–a far deeper impression than Romney has ever made, or Pawlenty. As a newsmaker he’s only rivaled by Sarah. But he’s achieved far more than her in his long career.

    • writeblock

      far more than her=far more than she

  • writeblock

    How is SC a “bellwether” state? Bush won it handily twice–but lost PA twice. McCain won SC but lost PA. SC tells us nothing at all about how a candidate would do in a battleground state. Yet without the battleground states, we can’t win.

  • stewlaw2009

    Wrtieblock – All this said, I really think you should write a piece for broader distribution arguing these points – especially Rudy’s unique value in the battleground states. Rudy did pull even with Romney and was ahead of McCain in NH in 2007. I suspect he’ll get a very good hearing this week – and an earful from Granite Stae editors about whether he’ll lower himself to invest in their poor little rural and inconsequential state.

  • stewlaw2009

    WriteBlock, I don’t disagree, but did Romney really have to skip New Hampshire, for example? And why make your stand in Florida, that’s just one more state? Except that it has Italian-Americans and “snowbirds” galore, of course. It’s a bigger state, no doubt, but no more representative really. And if you don’t like NH or IA, why skip South Carolina, the traditional GOP bellwether state? Rudy should run, and she should find some way to accept the system as it is – if he expects the system to nominate him? Again, there are a lot of options between blowing off the primaries, and embracing them? I mean New Hampshire, he’s a known quantity, it’s loaded with indies, right, and NH loves to defy the odds. It’s perfect. SO CAMPAIGN!

  • stewlaw2009

    I would only say: even Romney is likely to win in Pennsylvania, in fact, alot of GOP candidates might. Again, not clear why Rudy is especially needed, though his campaign support, as you indicated, can be vital.

    • writeblock

      Why is any candidate especially needed, not just Rudy. Isn’t it to put Obama out of office? So the issue should be who would be best suited to do this in a general election. You seem to think Rudy’s function this time around should be to help some other candidate get elected. But if he’s the strongest candidate, the candidate most likely to win battleground states, why would this be a good thing? Wouldn’t it be foolish to waste a major talent in that way? Right now Giuliani brings a lot of political strength to the table in exactly the states where it’s most needed. Romney, not so much. Pawlenty even less. Palin still less. Bachmann, Cain and Newt, bring no strength at all in the battleground states. So why should Rudy take a back seat to any other candidate? If he’s weak in places like IA and SC, why should that matter if he’s strong in PA and FL? It makes no sense to worry about early primary states if he can take PA or even NJ. Do we want our candidate to win the general election or just the GOP early primaries? How does this kind of thinking help the nation in its present doldrums? Shouldn’t we be looking at electability in a general election above all other factors?

      • stewlaw2009

        Like it or not, we have a primary system, and those that want to win the nomination play by its rules, as dysfunctional as they may seem. No candidiate in EITHER partry casn afford to run in the ppirmaries based on the “logic” of the general election alone. The primaries favor your party base, your hard-core activists, and the ones with real roots in local communities. They are the ones with the ideas and motivation to get people to the polls, and to generate enthusiasm about your candidacy. The general election favors the independent swing voters, who largely decide things in the end, even though they often don’t have strong or decided views of their own?

        Giuliani really insulted the party and its base in 2008 by suggesting, in effect, that he could skip the early primaries and still expect to be taken seriously as a candidate. Not competing in Iowa? Understandable. Neither did McCain. But not competing in New Hampshire, or SC? Unforgivable, really.
        Was he thinking that he should just race down to Floria to secure the New York/New Jersey “snow bird vote – or at least that there might be friendly Italian-Americans down there?

        Giuliani might have a lot credibility this time if we really tries to run in all the primaries and acts like a national GOP candidiate, and takes his lumps as he goes. I just doubt, based on his inexplicably bad judgment in 2008, that he really ever had it in him to campaign – or that he does now.

        • writeblock

          How convenient–for those who get to play while the rest of us take their leavings. It may be a system that turns out losers cycle after cycle–but is it unreformable? Do we want the Washington establishment to continue to control the system? The present process may be self-destructive, it may be hurting the nation giving us candidates who can’t win, but it keeps the same people in power over and over. Is that what we should favor?

          The early states lack relevance in any general election. They are small, rural and lacking in diversity, totally atypical. Their primaries are open to non-Republicans as well, which means they are elections that can be gamed by adversaries, especially this time around. They are winner-take-all as well, rather than proportional, which means the money quickly dries up after the trends are set and candidates are forced to drop out. This gives farmers and evangelicals a huge amount of clout while it gives battleground residents none at all. Residents from PA get no real choice at all–yet their preferences would be crucial in the general election. The result has been a chain of democrats lite going back to Eisenhower, excepting Goldwater and Reagan. It took Reagan three tries to get by the corrupt system, by the way.

          If we lose in 2012 because of a crappy primary system, I predict a third party movement. The present dominance of the few over the many in deciding presidential nominations is intolerable.

        • writeblock

          Your comment that Rudy “insulted” the early states really sums up all that is wrong–and unjust–about the system. How arrogant of those early states which are coddled beyond reason. The media, of course, plays along. It’s a corrupt situation. It’s disgusting how Romney panders to IA by supporting ethanol subsidies, for instance, though it makes little economic sense. It may win him some delegates, but it betrays his shallowness as a candidate. Rudy knew he had no chance in the early states and tried to go around them. More power to him for looking the rotten system square in the face. It’s the rest of the fifty who are continually being insulted by being short-changed in the process. No wonder recent polls indicate the Republican establishment is more out of touch with its rank-and-file than the Democratic Party. This is a sure recipe for losing elections.

  • stewlaw2009

    Thanks for the insight. The problem is, those are all good reasons for Rudy to campaign for the eventual GOP nominee – but not necessarily good reasons for him to BE the nominee. I seriously doubt he could compete anywhere in the South, with the base Romney and now Huntsman have established, and with the surging Tea Party candidiates. Florida – maybe, and perhaps Rubio, who owes him, would help?

    • writeblock

      Why would Rudy need to compete in the South? Red States would be a GOP given, even if we ran Mickey Mouse. They’re not going to go to Obama no matter who gets the nomination. In the general election Rudy would not have to compete there at all. It’s the purple states that we would need to worry about–and PA in particular which Obama absolutely needs to win. That said, it’s not at all clear that Romney could beat Obama in PA, given the Democratic strongholds of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. That’s where identity politics come in–as well as the need for a social moderate to win the Philly suburbs. Romney and Rudy are not at all interchangeable as candidates in that respect. Rudy has a much stronger fiscal record and would attract many more votes, given his ethnicity and popularity in this state.

  • ooostephen

    meh, those points may or may not mean anything, and seem trivial against the fact that rudy is the truest, most accomplished conservative running.

    • writeblock

      Rudy’s a fiscal Reaganite. He’s strong on defense and on law and order. He has a good record fighting pornography and upholding family values. But he’s a social moderate. I’d hardly call him the truest conservative, though he may well be the most fiscally conservative and the most accomplished.

      Why is all this of political importance? Because red states will be put in the column of any GOP nominee, but purple states like PA and OH can swing either way and will not necessarily go to the most conservative candidate. Bush lost PA twice, losing to Gore and Kerry. McCain lost to Obama here. But Rudy was ahead in the polls here by double digits. He’s a good fit.

      Obama can’t win the 2012 election without PA. It’s an absolutely must-win state for him. But Rudy’s moderate views on soicial issues play well in the Philly suburbs and would deny him the state.

      Identity politics likewise would play a big role in 2012. PA has a great concentration of Italian-American residents equal in size to the black vote. This adds up to a lot of political clout for Rudy–which was why tea party favorites Rubio, Brown and Christie asked him to campaign for them–each of them running in a state with great concentrations of Italian-American voters. Each won handily.

      • writeblock

        would deny him the state=would deny OBAMA the state.

  • writeblock

    Rudy brings a lot of credibility to the table. In the past few years Republicans have listened to him wistfully on cable news shows, admiring his common sense, his clarity of thought, his straight talk. And he campaigned successfully for Rubio, Brown and Christie–all tea party favorites, all winners in states with huge Italian-American populations.

    This last point is continually overlooked by those who denigrate his potential. Rudy is from a region with dense concentrations of Italian-American voters–all important states. He is popular in places like PA, OH, FL, NJ and CT–where he led in polls throughout 2007. In my state, PA, he’s a perfect fit–fiscally conservative but socially moderate.

    PA is a must-win for Obama. Yet it’s a purple state. It has a Republican governor and Republican legislature. But Bush lost the state twice. So did McCain who polled far behind Rudy here. And Rudy led both Hillary and Obama by double digits in most polls taken here. Unfortunately, by the time our primary came around, the die was cast. We never got to show our interest.

    But demographics here haven’t changed that much. Rudy’s still popular here and throughout the region. He’s still big in OH and FL as well. So he still remains relevant.