For starters, let's just acknowledge the obvious: if Rudy Giuliani is elected president of the United States in 2008, he needs to write Osama Bin Laden a thank-you card, just like George Bush did in 2004. If it weren't for 9/11, there is no possible way we're even contemplating a Giuliani presidency in 2008. He barely would have gotten out of his second mayoral term alive.
Having said that, his rise in the most recent polling is a thing to ponder, and something that should give progressives like myself pause. What is behind it, and what do we on the left have to fear from it?
Conventional wisdom says that Giuliani is still riding the crest of approval from his handling of the 9/11 crisis when he was mayor of New York, politically cashing in on the "America's Mayor" image that has stayed with him these past five and a half years. People remember the stalwart Giuliani almost immediately going to the scene, taking to the airwaves, making decisions, comforting the hysterical citizens of New York-and, by extension, the nation, as George Bush was nowhere to be found most of that day. Our signature memory of Giuliani is his emotional assertion that "the number of casualties will be more than we can bear." This is the Giuliani the Republican primary voters are currently nodding their heads yes to. The strong, resolute decision-maker, the captain who righted the Titanic this time after it hit the iceberg.
Giuliani also had the good fortune to leave office shortly after 9/11, keeping the memory of his performance that day forever frozen in time in the minds of the electorate. He does not have to battle the demons of the tragically, criminally bungled, neocon-utopic "War on Terror" that followed, ruining the political careers of so many afterwards and destroying a presidency (remember those 90% Bush approval ratings in the days and weeks immediately after the attacks?) because Giuliani has never been involved in post-9/11 policy making. After leaving office, he embarked on a lucrative consulting career and became a named partner in the law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani. In short, beyond his role on the actual day of 9/11, Giuliani has no national security record to run on, and yet this is where his supporters are hitching their stars.
Still, it's obvious that this is Giuliani's strength in these early days. Pundits say it is far too soon, however, to anoint him the GOP nomination. They say that once the "real" Giuliani is known to the base voters of the GOP, they will reject him. Giuliani is, after all, famously not "one of them" on issues perceived to be of the utmost importance to the GOP primary voter-he is pro-choice and an advocate of civil unions (although not gay marriage) and gun control measures. To his credit, he has not yet tried to appreciably distance himself from these stands ala Mitt ("I was pro-choice before I was pro-life") Romney. He has been married three times, the last divorce a nasty affair marred by charges of adultery that probably led to his withdrawal from the 2002 Senate seat ultimately won by Hillary Clinton. Popular wisdon seems to believe that Giuliani cannot overcome these ideological conflicts with those on the far right to win the nomination.
I say, not so fast. I'm going out on a limb here and say I think Giuliani wins the GOP nomination, and that spells big trouble for the Democrats if they don't start paying attention.
It's true that those of the Jesus Camp persuasion are hopping mad over what they perceive to be a weak field of candidates who represent their views of How You Should Live Your Life. After all, these neanderthal goons have had their way on nearly every issue for the past six years and they cannot believe that the rug is about ready to be pulled out from under them. For these freaks, if you're going to vote for Giuliani or Romney, you might as well be drawing the arrow to Jesse Jackson. Well, I say to them: tough shit. The country tried your way for three election cycles and were repulsed by it. It's not about you and your ugly little culture war anymore. There's no Helter Skelter coming.
My guess, as an outsider, is that the more mainstream GOP may be trying to take a page from the Democrat's 2006 playbook, and take a steely, cold-eyed look, not necessarily to who best represents the overall platform but, given the overall mood of the nation, who can get elected (see: Bob Casey, Heath Shuler, Jon Tester). The GOP primary voting base-the ones that read the news, and listen to commentaries-already know all about Rudy Giuliani and have not yet recoiled in horror. It's a classic case of the end justifying the means.
Practical, tough-talking, non-neoconservatively motivated Rudolph Giuliani fits the GOP bill perfectly here. That's why Democrats should be worried.
At this point, the smart money is saying either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama will be the Democratic nominee in 2008. Hillary's perceived problems with overall electability are legion, and the knock on Barack is that he is simply too inexperienced to lead a country at such a volatile time (it should be noted that Obama has more years both as an elected official [10 to Giuliani's 8] and as a national politician [2 to Giuliani's 0]). However, I think it's safe to say that Democrats, and the large majority of independents, would be loyal to either of them if faced with the prospect of voting for John McCain instead.
But would they remain loyal if the GOP candidate were Rudy Giuliani? The generally left-leaning part of the voting populace, who are not rabid populists but are in favor of abortion rights, tolerant of gays and suspicious of corporations, and not especially well informed, would probably tend to view a Giuliani candidacy very positively. After all, he's clearly not a member of the US Taliban, whom most of these folks view with contempt; he holds a lot of their social views; and they remember his larger-than-life presence on 9/11 as proof that he has actually "done" something in the face of adversity. A lot of these folks just plain don't like or trust Hillary Clinton, and, while likely holding a favorable view of Obama, would feel that he is not the man to run the country at this point because they haven't seen him "do" anything. A Giuliani candidacy would be far more likely to peel away those middle of the roaders who are still buying the fear mongering rhetoric, overlooking or unaware that in reality, the ex-governor's resume on this issue is a mere one day long.
It's up to us progressives to continually point out to those who may be swayed by the glamour and "moderateness" of a Giuliani campaign of what a Giuliani presidency would probably look like. The best vision of the future can usually be found by looking to the past, and Giuliani's past is rife with everything that makes progressives blanch. For eight years, Governor Giuliani ran the city of New York like a police state, declared open war on the city's poor, and hijacked the public school system. His consulting firm, Giuliani Partners, has left a legacy of corporate watercarrying and conflicts of interest. Candidate Giuliani has vowed to continue the tradition of appointing conservative judges, the biggest ongoing threat to civil liberties. Yes, Giuliani may be a social moderate on litmus test issues, but his overall philosophy is most definitely that of a hardcore conservative.
And yet...Democratic defections to a Giuliani candidacy could be the Democrats' biggest headache in 2008. A guy endorsed by the National Review!
I'm sending a donation to John McCain. Right now.