The Chicago Tribune's Pre-emptive Strike on Rudy Giuliani

The Chicago Tribune seems to fancy itself in the role of kingmaker when it comes to knocking candidates out of political races, and helping hometown politicians it favors to win. Its latest effort has targeted Rudy Giuliani, who all but officially entered the race for the Republican nomination for President in 2008 this week. Within two days of his announcement, a lengthy "investigative" piece appeared on the front page of the paper trashing Giuliani for his high speaking fees and some questionable business clients in the years since he entered the private sector.

The hit piece authored by Andrew Zajac was obviously a long time in the works, waiting to be released at the right moment to derail the Giuliani boom before it ever gets going.  

The Tribune actually has two favorite entrants in the 2008 Presidential sweepstakes.

Double standards

One is Hillary Clinton, Park Ridge, IL native and now New York Senator. Ms. Clinton and her husband Bill Clinton took in about $20 million between them in advance fees for their long boring carefully edited histories of their White House years. Since he left office, Bill Clinton has been giving many speeches at rates that are often multiples of those awarded to Giuliani. In his article on Rudy, Zajac lamely attempts to differentiate the former President's speaker fees from Giuliani's:
"But unlike Clinton and Powell, Giuliani is trying to climb back into politics after his turn as a businessman on the big-time speaking circuit, with hundreds of personal appearances, business deals, court cases and investments potentially soon to come under review by the media and adversaries."
This is almost comical. In the 1992 Presidential race, one of the slogans the Clinton campaign had popularized was : "vote for one, get one free". Two Clintons for the price of one. This was a very popular theme for women's groups, among others. Presumably, Zajac believes that Bill will be a potted plant during the current campaign, and sink into the background if Hillary is elected, never generating lucrative speaking fees that would be community property. Hence his business and speaking activities do not count in considering her candidacy.

If there were ever a paired candidacy, it was Bill and Hillary in 1992 and 1996, and Hillary and Bill in 2008. But Zajac sees nothing wrong with the huge Clinton net worth accumulation over the last six years. It is Rudy Giuliani who somehow has done something wrong by making money out of office. A friend who worked for the Clinton White House for a few years,  assured me, that whatever one thinks of Bill and Hillary, it was never about the money with them (power, policy, lust, different story, of course). 

At least for Bill, this seems to have changed out of office. When synagogues pay $150,000 to hear the former President describe how he failed at Camp David in the summer of 2000, the real question is not why Clinton charges so much for a speech to a not for profit group, but  why the synagogue would choose to spend its money in this fashion.  Corporations and other non-profit groups have paid much more for the former President's pearls of wisdom. Global warming crusader Al Gore, likely to be an Academy Award winner, if not a Nobel laureate later this year, has reportedly made a decent sized fortune several times as large as that of  the Clintons since leaving office, between start-up companies, and board and advisory roles to Apple Computer and Google, respectively.    So far Zajac has not released any stories on Gore's recent wealth accumulation. Maybe that article is ready to go if the former Vice President decides to make a run in 2008.

Taking Obama from also-ran to triumph

Illinois' other favorite son is Senator Barack Obama. In his case, the Tribune had a major hand in the former Senator's meteoric rise to national prominence in 2004. Trailing badly in a multi-candidate field for the Democratic nomination for the open US Senate seat in that year, then-State Senator Obama shot to the top after the Tribune ran a series of articles on the Democratic frontrunner, investment banker Blair Hull, accusing him of being an enraged man and occasional wife beater.

After Obama won the nomination following Hull's collapse in the polls, he was set to face Republican Jack Ryan in November. The Tribune, perhaps to show it can dig for the dirt in the bedrooms of candidates from both parties, pressured Ryan to release his divorce proceedings, which when made public,  suggested Ryan was a bit too kinky for his wife's tastes, as least as far as his interest in public sexual activity. Ryan dropped out of the race, replaced by the hapless Alan Keyes. One-time also-ran Obama strode to victory with 70% of the popular vote. 

There are politicians who experience good fortune, and then there is Barack Obama. No candidate I can recall has ever had a more charmed path to national prominence.  And no candidate has ever owed more to the investigative efforts of a single newspaper in taking out his toughest opponents. This is not to take away from Obama's considerable strengths as a candidate. But if he wins the race for the White House, it would only be natural for him to grant his first exclusive interview to Tribune reporters, since they paved his way to the Senate.

I personally have no problem with former political figures making large sums of money out of office.  Many public officials are underpaid. When some hedge fund number crunchers walk away with tens or hundreds of millions a year, and their lawyers and aides mere millions, people responsible for the fate of the country are underpaid at a few hundred thousand dollar salary ($400,000 for the President at the moment).   What one would expect, however, from a major newspaper is equal treatment of the candidates on a particular issue, in this case, their out of office earnings.  On this criterion, clearly, the Tribune has failed miserably.

So the question arises, why is the Tribune going after Giuliani, and not say John McCain or Mitt Romney? It is not surprising that the Giuliani candidacy is getting some flak from some social conservatives. In an earlier article, I suggested some ways for Rudy to make peace with social conservatives, but, clearly, not all such disgruntled groups are open to his approach.

I think the Tribune's attack yesterday on Rudy, and others which will surely follow, are due to one principal factor: he may be the only national candidate who can reverse the current GOP slide. 

The GOP's doldrums

The 2006 midterm elections were a disaster for Republicans. In a year when 18 of 33 Senate seats that were contested were held by Democrats (in other words, a target-rich environment for the GOP),  Republicans lost 6 seats. That means the current Senate group in this  six year cycle now has 24 Democrats and 9 Republicans. That is a ratio for one party domination. In the 2008 Senate races, the GOP has to defend in 21 of the 33 contests. So it is a promising environment for Democrats, with particularly vulnerable GOP-held seats in Colorado, Minnesota, and New Hampshire, and possibly others in play as well (Oregon, Maine, Virginia, if Senator Warner retires). 

In the House, despite the huge advantage of incumbency, the GOP lost 30 seats in November, and only eight of these were open seats, normally the most vulnerable for a party switch. But it could have been even a bigger rout. The GOP won more of the very close races than it lost, and the net loss could easily have been 40 seats. In total, the GOP did not pick up a single Democratic held House seat, Senate seat or Governor's race across the country, a first in modern times. And in state legislative races, the GOP lost over 300 net seats across the country.  With 28 Democratic governors and a solid majority of legislative seats, the next Congressional redistricting will provide more opportunities for favorable gerrymandering of House boundary lines for Democrats than Republicans. 

The biggest problem for the Republicans at the moment is obviously the Iraq war.  The President's approval ratings have declined further since the November elections, and the new Democratic majority in Congress has so far been well received (the mainstream media certainly like them better than the previous  Republican controlled Congress). There is excitement over the 2008 campaign with Clinton, Obama, John Edwards, and a collection of long-shot candidates.  The unpopular Iraq war is unlikely to be over in November 2008, so Democrats smell blood in the water. 

Michael Barone estimated that President Bush would have won a far more decisive victory in 2004 (maybe a 5 to 7% popular vote margin, instead of 2.5%), had there been no Iraq war, instead of running fro re-election in the midst of it. Had Bush achieved such a victory margin, we could have been spared the scurrilous and shameful conspiracy mongering of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr and Mark Crispin Miller that the 2004 election was stolen in Ohio, much like the  2000 election was supposedly stolen in Florida  By 2006, the Iraq war overhang was disastrous for the party. Certainly the Mark Foley, Jack Abramoff and other assorted (and sordid) scandals cost a few seats, but these were not decisive in switching control of either house of Congress. It was the war that led to the Republicans' defeat.

The Giuliani advantage

The Giuliani advantage for the Republicans is that he is not associated with the Iraq war. But he is strongly associated, and very positively in the public's mind, with the war on terrorism (misnamed as it is), which has been a strong suit for the Party. So he separates the two issues in a way that no other GOP candidate can . Mitt Romney is also not associated with the Iraq war, but has no connection with the war on terror.

Americans want a strong President in the current volatile international environment.   Giuliani has a reputation for toughness, and leadership, and decisiveness. These are character traits that will play well with an increasingly suburban electorate.  The Republican Party has been losing support in the older inner ring of suburbs around major cities for 15 years. President Clinton skillfully (though unfairly) caricatured the GOP as a party dominated by narrow minded bigots from the South, who would take away a woman's right to choose. The message was accepted by many former GOP-leaning female voters, creating a large gender gap, and the movement of once competitive states (all suburban dominated) like New Jersey, Illinois and California into the Democratic column.

It will be very difficult for the Democrats (or their media allies) to caricature Rudy Giuliani in this manner. He is not a Southerner, nor a religious conservative, and certainly not a hardliner on abortion.  His  identity and record on some of the social issues are  major advantages, I think, that he brings to the upcoming contest. He offers the chance for the GOP to win back some of the libertarians, independents, and moderate voters who have defected in recent elections, but were once part of Ronald Reagan's large majority, since they were with him on his economic policies and his Cold War policies, if not on all his social stances.  Will social conservatives be better off with Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama as President than Rudy Giuliani? It is because of Rudy's strengths as a candidate, that the first line of attack is coming on his business practices.

The GOP will not get a fair shake from the media, no matter who the nominee is in 2008. The political journalistic class has a political affiliation that on average is not too different from that of college professors. Some may try to fight it a bit, but professional as they may try to be, they want one side to win.  

However, if Giuliani is the nominee, it will be harder for the coverage to be as stridently one-sided as it normally is in terms of Republican candidates  (e.g. for the 2006 Congressional races ).  It is not surprising that the man who is probably the GOP's best hope for victory is facing some tough early sledding, as various lines of attack are tested. This reflects an awareness that Giuliani may be insulated from some of the traditional lines of attack normally hurled at Republican candidates. . He has faced a lot more than this before though, and is pretty thick skinned about media coverage at this point.

The New York Times never drew blood on him in 8 years as Mayor, and they tried pretty much every day.  Andre Zajac's hit job in the Tribune won't faze Rudy either.

Richard Baehr is Chief Political Correspondent of American Thinker.