Rivals and competitors for the New York and national limelight, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani share a strange connection, the political odd couple of politics. They skirmished briefly for the Senate but Giuliani’s health forced a cancellation of the match. This presidential race offered the prospect of a rematch. Indeed, throughout the last year their political fortunes have been oddly tied to one another.
While Clinton was riding the invincibility wave in the Democratic primary for most of last year, Giuliani capitalized on the prospect of a Clinton nomination. Recognizing he was not the darling of the conservative base, he took the lead in challenging her policies and mocking her missteps. If she did not condemn MoveOn.org’s ad criticizing General Petraeus in September, Giuliani was there to defend him and castigate her as lacking the judgment and temperament to be commander in chief. If she pandered to the crowd by suggesting a $5,000 bond for every child, Giuliani’s team drew up a mock “Hillary Bond” and circulated it as evidence of her profligacy.
Each became a feature in the other party’s debates. Giuliani joked “Are you kidding?” to the laughs of the crowd when asked if he would be able to differentiate his record from hers. The Democrats were quizzed on their views of his Iran policy. It seemed both were gunning for a showdown with the other.
Especially for Giuliani, these tactics seemed to work for a time, lifting him above his less dynamic Republican competitors and assuring the conservative base that he capably would lead the rhetorical battle against Clinton in the general election. He made a compelling argument that only he could put into play in the general race states like New Jersey, Connecticut, and Oregon and force Clinton to actually spend resources in New York and California. If a few deviations from conservative orthodoxy were the price for securing an electoral victory against the Republicans’ favorite villainess, then many were willing to make that deal.
Then things took a turn for the worse for both. His strategic decision to focus on later primaries and press stories about his New York past stalled his progress and limited his visibility. Mike Huckabee rose and John McCain revived. Meanwhile, Clinton’s troubles grew and she went from “inevitable” to “under siege.” Giuliani lost his favorite target and many of his favorite punch lines.
New Hampshire then provided an unexpected twist, as Clinton rebounded. In doing so, she made clear that the pundits and pollsters who wrote her off were no better than Las Vegas gamblers operating with hunches and limited information, peddling intuition as mathematical certainty. Well, if they missed the Clinton revival, Giuliani calculated, they could just as easily be wrong about his Florida/February 5 strategy.
Sure enough, within days of Clinton’s victory a new Florida ad by Giuliani ridiculed the pundits and asked voters to turn down the chatter — implicitly media chatter that denigrated his chances and tactics — and focus on his strongest selling point, leadership.
So once again Clinton has thrown Giuliani a lifeline and suggested a final showdown between the two New York titans might more than the faint hope of Rupert Murdoch. Indeed, it is more than a strange cosmic coincidence that their fates are tied. They remain the two biggest personalities in the presidential race and Republicans at some level may sense that they will face a personality deficit if they do not have their own larger than life combatant to face her.
The road ahead is unmistakably more rocky for Giuliani, as he braces for the onslaught of invigorated challengers who will come racing into Florida. What is certain is that both races may be heading for a grueling battle through multiple states. No candidate is better equipped than either them — temperamentally or politically — to battle coast to coast for their nomination. So it is not impossible in this most unpredictable presidential race that the Clinton-Giuliani show may in fact come to be. What a show it would be.