Rudy and McCain's Path to 2008 - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Rudy and McCain’s Path to 2008

This exchange on immigration has made me reflect on the differing political fortunes of McCain and Rudy in this race and, specifically, think of something that has come up in conversations Jim and I have had before.

One of the things that has benefited Giuliani in this race has been that even though he and McCain have both taken positions over the years that were at odds with the conservative base, McCain (thus far) has paid more for his deviations. One could argue that this could all be traced back to the late 1990s, when both politicians began to undergo shifts that would end up allowing Giuliani to become the frontrunner in this cycle, while leading to McCain's apparent implosion.

During the 1990s, Giuliani played the role of the moderate Republican who generated press for being willing to challenge party orthodoxy on issues such as immigration, abortion, and gun control, and to even cross party lines to endorse Mario Cuomo. By the end of the decade, however, Giuliani began to downplay his differences with the party, and generate national news for events such as the Virgin Mary elephant dung controversy, on which he was fighting side by side with social conservatives. After 9/11, of course, he became "America's Mayor" and was in the public spotlight primarily talking about the need to stay on offense against terrorism. In stark contrast to his endorsement of Cuomo, he tirelessly campaigned for President Bush and other Republican candidates.

With McCain, it was the exact reverse. During the 1980s and for most of the 1990s, he was generally well regarded among conservatives, but starting in the late 1990s, he began to challenge the party on tobacco and most notably, campaign finance reform. This carried over into his bid for the presidency in 2000, all of his subsequent scraps with conservatives from the Bush tax cuts to the "Gang of 14" compromise, and, most recently, immigration.

So, basically, you end up with a situation whereby videos emerge of Giuliani taking on immigration hawks in the 1990s, contrasted with his current get-tough-on-border-security proposals. Whether his pro-enforcement strategy will prove politically effective or not, we will have to wait and see. But there's no question that McCain was far worse off politically for aggressively trying to push for comprehensive immigration reform in the heat of a presidential campaign.

People may have differing views on what contributed to these shifts, and clearly political reality played into Giuliani's current positioning. But just looking at this from a purely analytical perspective, it's worth entertaining the idea that the seeds of McCain and Giuliani's campaigns were planted almost ten years ago, and their divergent paths has thus far worked to the detriment of the former, and the benefit of the latter.  

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