For several years, I have been predicting that Rudy Giuliani would be the Republican nominee. I did so on this site on numerous occasions, as far back as June of 2006. I plan to write more about Giuliani’s failed campaign once he officially drops out, but since I was so colossally wrong, I figured I’d offer some quick reflections for the blog.
My assessment of Giuliani’s chances was based on a belief that the Republican field would be fractured and wide open, with no clear conservative option, paving the way for Giuliani to win because terrorism would be the most important issue to primary voters, and his strength on national security would overcome his personal baggage and liberal social views.
Despite the fact that many people older and wiser than me kept insisting that he had no shot, I remained confident in my prediction until late last year. The reason was that the same old and wise people had also insisted that Giuliani was never going to run in the first place, and that if he did run, he’d quickly fade once voters learned more about him. When Giuliani did decide to run, and when he maintained his lead in national polls through most of the year, I felt emboldened. I also thought that despite the obstacles before him, the man who had achieved so much against long odds in the past, would gut his way through to the nomination. But I ended up being wrong on every level.
For one thing, while terrorism was on the minds of Republican voters, it has not been the clear overriding issue that it was in prior election cycles. To the extent that national security is important, John McCain ended up winning the argument that his military background and foreign policy experience in the Senate was more relevant than Giuliani’s law enforcement credentials, executive experience, and leadership during 9/11.
But beyond that, Giuliani’s social views and personal baggage did eventually catch up with him. Starting in October, when leading social conservatives threatened to bolt to a third party if he were the nominee, it not only served to highlight these issues, but to undermine his electability argument. Then a few weeks later there was the Bernie Kerik indictment, stories about his accused child molester friend Alan Placa, and the flurry of articles about taxpayer funding for security for his then-mistress Judith Nathan when he was mayor. While he ended up being vindicated as to how everything was accounted for, the average voter isn’t going to weed through all of the details. The only thing they remember is that he was involved in something sleazy. As I’ve been on the campaign trail in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida, I’ve asked people what they think of Giuliani, and oftentimes I’d hear voters tell me that there was something “shady” about him, even if they couldn’t point to anything specific.
Another noteworthy thing is that as these stories began to come out, the Giuliani campaign was rather muted in its response. It was in stark contrast to the daily war that would go on between Giuliani and the media in New York. He just didn’t seem to show the same fire in the belly, the same determination in this campaign that he did as he battled entrenched liberal interests in NYC. Giuliani may have achieved the impossible at various points in his career, but that Giuliani, relentlessly prepared, with laser beam focus, was simply not the man running for president.
In the end, a lot of people will fault his late state strategy for his demise. I agree that this was a terrible approach, but I think it’s also important to note that the strategy was just a symptom. That is, he was forced to retreat to Florida precisely because of all the problems I noted above.