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.
And Giuliani’s personal life is less than exemplary. He’s been married three times, and his penchant for goofball humor, including public cross-dressing, compares unfavorably with other GOP candidates.
Giuliani heads to Dover, New Hampshire this week to headline a major GOP fundraiser. It could turn out to be a perfect venue for him to announce his candidacy.
If Giuliani polls well in head-to-head match-ups with President Obama, I’ll be the first to extol the merits of his candidacy. I might even vote for him.
But not unless he agrees to get into the race before Super Tuesday.
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.