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March 12, 2007

Can Rudy Win? Should He?


And here we didn’t think that a candidate who is not pro-life could be the Republican frontrunner for president. Outside of “The West Wing,” anyway.


Rudy Giuliani, at this incredibly early date, is leading in the polls. According to an AP poll released Sunday, the former New York mayor led in the Republican field with 35 percent of the vote. Now, one can say that at this absurdly early date, with only serious political junkies actually following the race from day to day, these numbers are largely meaningless and are little more than a contest of name recognition.


There are two major reasons why Rudy is qualified. As a former New Yorker who lived in the city on the tail end of Giuliani’s mayoralty and for the few years after, I can vouch that Rudy did many excellent things as mayor - mostly in relation to reducing crime and cleaning up the city. New York has been unquestionably safer and more livable since Rudy’s time in office. He solved lots of problems that appeared unsolvable, and for that he deserves our gratitude.


There is also, of course, Rudy’s handling of 9/11. Now, there has recently been some revisionist thinking that Rudy “really didn’t do all that much,” as argued in Kevin Keating’s 2006 documentary “Giuliani Time” and Wayne Barrett’s book “Grand Illusion,” both of which make some good points but vastly overplay their hand. The city could’ve descended into chaos that day, as it has many times before, but it didn’t. And as we have seen from the top-to-bottom government failure in Hurricane Katrina, a lack of leadership in an urban calamity can lead to absolute disaster.


Much of the doubts about Rudy’s viability as a candidate have centered around the question of whether the evangelical conservative base that twice elected George W. Bush will abide a candidate who is pro-choice, has been married three times (including once to his second cousin), doesn’t get along with his kids, has been known to dress in drag in variety shows and bunked with a gay couple after one of his divorces.


None of that matters to me. What does are some very real questions about whether Giuliani can be elected president - and more importantly, whether he should be.


So can Rudy win? Giuliani would likely need to dominate in the general election among working/middle class, ethnic white males, who were his base all three times he ran for mayor despite many of them usually leaning Democratic. As Rudy’s two mayoral victories were against an African-American and a female, these voters have a history of breaking for him and may do so again against either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.


There is precedent for this in politics, both notably among the “Reagan Democrats” who helped Ronald Reagan win twice. To win, Rudy would have to go back to a pre-Bush method of playing to the middle of the electorate, rather than revving up the right. However, this way of winning is practically antithetical to the Bush/Rove method of revving up the conservative base, upon which the entire Republican electoral infrastructure has been built for the past decade.


And also, The Onion’s headline that Giuliani is “running for president of 9/11” may have some truth to it, as his continuing to bring up that day for political gain may become tiresome, if not crass, by the end of the campaign.


And more importantly, should he win? There are many horrible, horrible things that George W. Bush has done in office – most notably, the shunning of our allies, the collapse of diplomacy, and the pulling of civil liberties - that are going to need to be undone by the next president. Everything about Giuliani’s record - whether his feuds with various underlings, his picking of pointless fights, his not-so-great civil liberties record - indicate he’ll make these things worse, not better.


And besides, the various racial controversies of Giuliani’s term as mayor, mostly centered on police shootings, have less than endeared him to the city’s minorities. What our nation needs at this point is less racial tension, not more.


Would Rudy be a better president than George W. Bush? Almost without question. He’s smarter, more competent, and a better leader - and that’s just scratching the surface. He is probably the Republican who can win a general election against Clinton or Obama. But whether he can get through the GOP primaries - and whether he should - remains an open question.


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