The rubber chicken circuit can be brutal. So one of the best indicators of how likely it is that a potential candidate will in fact run for national office is how much effort he expends to campaign for his party's candidates in the Congressional election two years before the presidential race.
Tomorrow night, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be in Chicago. He will be here for a fundraiser for Dave McSweeney, the Republican candidate for the 8th Congressional District in Illinois. While there are a few dozen endangered GOP incumbents around the country, McSweeney's race may represent one of the best pickup opportunities for the GOP in 2006, as he tries to unseat first—term Democratic Congresswoman Melissa Bean in a district that President Bush captured with 56% of the vote in 2004.
Giuliani is also providing support for other GOP Congressional and Senate candidates, as well as to Ralph Reed, the GOP candidate for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia. Giuliani has been a busy man since he left office in New York at the end of 2001. He has consulted with municipalities on how they can reduce their crime rates, created an investment banking firm, associated with a Texas law firm, and given lots of speeches. At age 62, he appears to be happily married, financially successful and cured of the prostate cancer that forced him out of the 2000 US Senate race in New York against Hillary Clinton.
Many of Giuliani's talks are on the topic of leadership. Democrats have run on the issue of competence several times in recent decades, and not very competently. Michael Dukakis' 'Massachusetts miracle' did not resonate nationally, in part due to the frozen fish personality of the former Massachusetts governor. John Kerry also campaigned on competence, but could not articulate how his approach would be different from the President's on Iraq, the issue where his critique of Bush's competence rang loudest.
Giuliani's message is about leadership, not just competence. Leadership is all about communication, and one of the biggest issues Republicans have with the current administration is its inability to successfully communicate a message on the stakes in Iraq, the success of the economy, or new policies on immigration and energy independence.
On the circuit and in early polling for the 2008 race, Giuliani has shown significant crossover appeal. A potential rival for the GOP nomination in 2008, Arizona Senator John McCain, has demonstrated much the same appeal to independents and Democrats. But Giuliani has some advantages as compared to McCain. Giuliani is not a Washington insider. He has not voted on hundreds of bills over the years, thereby antagonizing many interest groups on many issues. He has also been Mayor of Americas' largest city, so he has had to manage a major enterprise, not just a congressional office of 15 people. Given the track record in recent decades of governors running for the presidency (Carter, Reagan, Clinton, Bush) and Senators (all of whom were unsuccessful since JFK) Giuliani's experience puts him in the more successful of the two camps. Rudy was, after all, a highly accomplished mayor of a city considered ungovernable for several decades before he took office.
During his 8 years as Mayor of New York, the city's murder rate dropped from about 2,300 murders per year, to just over 600. Most of the murder victims in New York are black and Hispanic. The reduced murder rate meant that over the 8 years, more than 10,000 people, who might have died with a continuation of the killing spree in place when he took office, now live their lives. Critics of Giuliani like to point out that crime rates dropped elsewhere during this period, as the crack epidemic waned. But nowhere did they drop as dramatically as in New York City.
In New York City there was a program to reduce crime. It did not just happen due to sociological factors. The broken windows approach, rounding up perpetrators of lesser crimes who were easier to find, often captured those also involved in more serious crimes. But equally important was the use of computerized statistical analyses to identify where crime was occurring on a daily and weekly basis, and using that information to direct the resources of the police department to address the highest priority locales. Not surprisingly, the presence of police in high crime areas had an inhibiting effect on criminal activity in those areas. The best evidence that Giuliani's approach deserves the credit is the many members of his administration hired by other cities to implement the same policies.
As a consultant to Mexico City, Giuliani was asked to address the city's wave of executive kidnappings. Giuliani told an audience at a talk I attended that he quickly discovered that in Mexico City ransom was routinely paid to get the executives released. In the U.S., ransom is rarely paid in this kind of case. Not surprisingly, corporate kidnappings are not a big problem in the US, since they have little likelihood of a big financial payoff for the kidnappers, and because kidnapping is regarded as a very serious crime that brings in the FBI. In Mexico City, corporate kidnapping has a big financial payoff. Hence, Rudy's advice: stop paying ransom.
Giuliani says he will decide whether he will run for President after the 2006 Congressional elections. Polls that show him decisively beating Hillary Clinton in 2008 have gotten many Republicans excited about his possible participation in the race. But other Republicans, particularly some social conservatives, are wary. The Republican Party today has three principal 'issue wings.' National security conservatives see the war on terrorism as the singular issue for our time. Big business conservatives want lower tax rates, and spending control (at least for everybody else's program). This group includes most of the $1,000 and $2,000 contributors to national campaigns. Social issue conservatives want abortion rights rolled back, and do not want gay marriage legalized.
Of course, some of the people who are in one camp because of a primary attachment to the issues of that camp, are also supportive of the traditional GOP positions of another of the three groups. Giulani's leadership after the events of 9/11, his success in dealing with New York City's equivalent of 'national security' issues through crime reduction, and his tough talk on combating Islamic radicalism, all give him a lot of appeal to the national security camp, much like McCain. As Mayor of New York, Giuliani took on the large public employee unions that had contributed to bankrupting the city and also cut some taxes. He should not have any trouble attracting support with the low—tax and spending—control constituency, who are a bit nervous about McCain on these issues. Of course, Giuliani was also tough on corporate crime, helping put away Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken as a US Attorney. With so much attention now focused by the media on corporate crime, Rudy has good credentials here too.
Where Rudy will face his biggest challenge is with the social conservative camp, or at least among some of its leaders, due to his past support for abortion rights and gay rights.
Some of the leading conservative thinkers in the country were in Chicago at an event in which I participated last fall. Before the event started, the panelists met in an office and conversation quickly got around to what Rudy can do to make peace with social conservatives in the party. It was obvious that this group trusted Giuliani more than they did McCain, even though some had backed McCain in 2000.
They all thought that while McCain was pro—life and therefore acceptable to the religious conservatives on this issue, his straying on other issues and his support of campaign finance reform had antagonized many in the business community as well as religious conservatives. It was clear that Rudy was regarded as the best bet to maintain GOP control of the White House in 2008. One suggestion was that Giuliani announce a conversion, and a change in his position on some of these issues, similar to what formerly anti—abortion Democrats like Dick Durbin, and Dick Gephardt did to make themselves more palatable to the pro—choice forces who dominate the Democratic Party.
I thought this was a very bad idea. One of Rudy's strongest points is his authenticity, and this would smack of opportunism and insincerity.
Another suggestion was that Rudy should meet with the leaders of the Christian evangelical movement and reassure them that he would not be an advocate for things they were fighting, regardless of his personal views. Some of this has happened already. Last September, Giuliani was asked to speak at the annual dinner for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in Washington DC. The IFCJ is a pro—Israel group that includes both Jews and evangelical Christians. Giuliani was introduced by Tom DeLay, and Gary Bauer and Ralph Reed were among the IFCJ's supporters who applauded Giuliani's selection as an award recipient (Senator Joe Lieberman was the other award recipient that night).
DeLay introduced Giuliani as the man on my right (in terms of seating). When Giuliani got up to speak, he told the audience that he might have to remind some voters in the years ahead of Congressman DeLay's description, that he was to the right of Tom DeLay.
My own view is that there is a third strategy for Giuliani to become an acceptable candidate to religious conservatives. That would be to state publicly that he believed that President Bush had made two very good appointments to the Supreme Court in John Robert and Sam Alito. He could also say that if elected, he would seek to find similar justices for the High Court when any vacancies occurred: men or women of great professional competence and integrity, committed to a serious examination of the language and meaning of the Constitution, and not to making new law on the Court.
The reality is that 'progressive' social legislation generally does not pass the Congress to become law. Law changes to implement the 'progressive' social agenda have been more often judicially mandated. If Giuliani promises to appoint Supreme Court and lower court justices who will be perceived as strict constructionists (even if he does not use those exact words), then he will do no worse in this area than a candidate who has professed a pro—life policy for his or her entire political career.
At the moment, the GOP race is shaping up as McCain and Giuliani on the center right, and Senator George Allen and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney among more traditional conservatives (Senator Bill Frist is also in the more traditional camp though he has faded a bit as a potential candidate after a disappointing run as Majority Leader). Both McCain and Giuliani, with broad national name recognition, so far run far better in head—to—head races with prospective Democratic nominees than either Allen or Romney, who are not as widely known.
There are of course wild cards out there. If Vice President Cheney resigned after the 2006 Congressional elections, whoever President Bush appointed to be Vice President would immediately become a serious player for the 2008 race and likely the favorite. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice comes to mind.
2008 is the first open seat Presidential race since 1920. No sitting President or Vice President will be running. With no clear favorites at the head of the line on the GOP side, it is a wide open race. Among Democrats, the recent emergence of new movie star and global warming pontificator Al Gore has slowed—down the Hillary express for the Democratic nomination, though Gore insists he is not now a candidate. In his new documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, Gore argues that the global warming problem must be solved in the next 10 years or the world is doomed. That would mean Gore would have to solve the problem before the end of his second term in office. That might be asking too much even of Al Gore.
If the county wants a problem solver, Rudy Giuliani might be the man. Giuliani has worked closely with the leaders of the Manhattan Institute, publishers of the City Journal, and has shown himself open to new ideas and research that might lead to more innovative approaches to urban problems.
Rudy is not a candidate so uncomfortable in his own skin that he would need a consultant to select the color tones for his suits. Americans used to love to hate New York, but Giuliani became America's Mayor as much as New York's in the months after 9/11, as he demonstrated his and the city's resilience, and toughness. In the same way that it is easy to hate the Yankees but hard to hate Joe Torre, their very classy manager, Giuliani has overcome the parochialism and sense of world—centeredness that affects so many people from the Big Apple. He has become a genuinely popular national figure.
If Rudy chooses to go for the big enchilada, I would not bet against him.
Richard Baehr is the chief political correspondent of the American Thinker.