Is former New City mayor Rudy Giuliani about to run for president again? The man who led his Republican rivals by a wide margin in the polls for most of 2007 – but doomed his chances for the nomination in 2008 by failing to run in any of the critical early primaries – is back in the news, sounding chastened, humbled, but “ready to be talked into” a second White House bid.
In fact, Giuliani is on his way to New Hampshire this week to headline a major GOP donors’ dinner in Dover,
but he now plans to visit Manchester and other cities to gauge his popularity. He’ll arrive just a few hours behind Mitt Romney, on the heels of a recent CNN poll showing him with a slight percentage lead over both Romney and Sarah Palin in the race for the GOP nomination.
Despite that poll result – a reflection of his lingering name recognition perhaps, as well as continued GOP voter frustration with the party’s current crop of candidates – not everyone’s likely to put out the welcome mat for the man who skipped the state in 2008, despite having pulled ahead of Romney and John McCain after trailing for
months, and who was also leading in South Carolina, the state that typically makes or breaks a GOP nominee.
Inexplicably – or so it seemed at the time – Romney announced that he was pursuing a “late primary” strategy, joining the race in time for the Southern “Super Tuesday” contests, where he planned to clean up. At the time, most pundits questioned the wisdom of this strategy, noting that it had rarely ever worked. But a few hare-brained commentators, like radio talk show host Glenn Beck declared it “brilliant.” Some even pointed to Bill Clinton’s first primary win in South Carolina in 1992, which he used as a launching pad to capture to nomination, as proof that the strategy might succeed.
By the time Giuliani jumped in, McCain was already cruising to victory, having won both New Hampshire and South Carolina, knocking Romney out of the race Giuliani, who’d managed fourth place as an undeclared candidate in New Hampshire, ended up a distant third in Florida. Excoriated by the press, and humiliated, he quickly withdrew
and endorsed McCain.
In fact Giuliani had more than enough reason to limit his exposure in the early primaries. There were rumors swirling about his apparent misuse of public funds to finance expensive vacations with his former mistress, Judith Nathan, who’d subsequently become his third wife. Nathan didn’t help matters by campaigning for her new
husband, and making a series of gaffes, including her claim that Giuliani was her second husband, when a media investigation revealed that, in fact, he was her third.
It’s still not clear now Giuliani managed to avoid further public scrutiny, and even a possible indictment over the alleged corruption, but some observers believe his vaunted late primary strategy was really just a thinly-veiled attempt by the former prosecutor to “lay low” while the controversy over his private life ? and its possible public consequences – blew over. It more or less did, but along with it, went any hope that Giuliani would launch a steady drive for the nomination.
Giuliani certainly had some traction with independent suburban swing voters, the very voters that both parties, but especially Republicans right now, need to win in 2012. Giuliani’s been out of the national spotlight for a number of years, but hasn’t lost his ability to rally those voters ? especially large blocs of Italian-Americans – for other GOP candidates, as he proved last year when he stumped effectively for Tea Party-backed candidates like Chris Christie in New Jersey, Scott Brown in Massachusetts, and Marco Rubio in Florida, all of whom swept to
Of course, the main challenge facing Giuliani, like any other candidate deemed to have strong crossover appeal, is how to retain the backing of the party’s conservative base, especially religious voters. Losing Iowa, which McCain did in 2008, and Giuliani surely would in 2012, wouldn’t be fatal – it rarely is. But Giuliani’s decidedly “pro-choice” and unlike Romney is unlikely to change his spots just to appease evangelical Christians. In 2008, McCain, who was also considered too moderate on social issues, won the nomination, but wasn’t able to impose his own VP candidate Joe Lieberman, also deemed a “moderate” on some social issues – and under fierce pressure from
James Dobson and other evangelical Christians – who threatened not to support his candidacy – went with Sarah Palin.
Republican voters, if anything, are even more conservative-minded than now than they were in 2008, and are unlikely to let even a die-hard fiscal hawk like Giuliani, even one with a record of cutting taxes, get the nod , unless he can pass a conservative litmus test. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels – who was vilified for calling for a “truce” on social issues in order to unite the party around an economic critique of Obama – withdrew from the race rather than face continued hostility. Giuliani might fare better, in part because of his law-and-order toughness, and neo-conservative foreign policy credentials, but it won’t be easy for sympathetic conservatives to “sell” Giuliani to their pro-marriage, anti-abortion base, when other candidates – Pawlenty and even Romney,
and to a certain extent Huntsman also – have far more exemplary private lives – and political stands.
Still, how badly does the GOP want to beat Obama? If Giuliani can put a dent in Romney’s currently soft lead in New Hampshire, and start rallying some of the plurality of voters who formerly supported him, he might solve the “problem” the way McCain did – by choosing the “proper” running mate. Rubio’s name is on just about everybody’s lips these days, as is Christie’s. Both men say they don’t want the job, but the party could well insist, and in the case of Giuliani, he could well make the case that they “owe”
With GOP candidates jumping in and out of the race almost weekly, Giuliani’s sudden re-emergence could prove to be just another morbid symptom of his party’s persistent leadership vacuum. In fact, the niche he’s currently filling ? 16 per cent of the vote is hardly a mandate – is largely the same one that fellow New Yorker Donald Trump briefly occupied, before flaming out last month. And if past personal controversies rear their ugly head, Giuliani may well be doomed to a short second act.
But America loves a comeback story, and Giuliani could fit the bill. Along with his New Hampshire trip, where he’ll be meeting with influential newspaper editors, and key operatives, pay attention to the next national poll of general voters. If it shows the ex-NYC mayo, polling better than any of the other GOP candidates against Obama – currently, even Romney would lose in a head-to-head contest – there may be something far more substantive going on here than another Trump-like passing fancy – or a trip down memory lane.
Stewart J. Lawrence is a Washington, DC-based an immigration policy specialist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org