Friday, March 02, 2007


From City Hall to the White House?
In this most open and most premature of Presidential races, old truths seem now inappropriate; conventional wisdom inapplicable and received opinion irrelevant. A pro-choice, pro gun-control three times married Catholic who dressed up as Marilyn Monroe and moved in with a gay couple after his second divorce? Meet the Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani. As for why he is able to defy political reality, so far at least, we need look no further than the events of September 11th, when Giuliani alone offered a form of national leadership. With Bush and Cheney unavailable for comment, Rudy symbolised American governance at a time it was desperately needed. It thrust a man who had a divisive reputation in New York politics into a national spotlight so fierce that it was almost a halo.
Yet 9/11 is not going to be enough to propel Giuliani into the White House: he has to get through the Republican nomination process first. He is, admittedly, lucky in his opponents. McCain is too old, Romney too Mormon and Gingrich and Brownback too obscure and too extreme. The more plausible potential Republican candidates are prevented, either by constitutional laws regarding their citizenship (the Governor of California), or laws of common sense regarding their name (the Governor of Florida). So Giuliani is already the bookies favourite. But, once his socially liberal views are given wider publicity, what else apart from 9/11 remains for Giuliani to champion? Jon Lerner has the answer. Rudy is a tax-cutting, crime-busting, welfare-repealing, terrorist-fighting national celebrity whose leadership of New York transformed a bankrupt, welfare addicted crime haven into the first city of the world - not through consensus politics, but through the savage application of classic Conservative policies: the cutting and abolition of taxes to stimulate business; the enforcement of laws regarding petty crimes to help stamp out major crime; and the introduction of a sceptical view on welfare and benefits in order to reduce the numbers living on them. Bill Simon, Giuliani's policy adviser, elaborates on his record: He cut taxes 23 times. Reduced the welfare rolls by 50 percent. He basically presided over an administration whose budget grew at a very, very slow pace. . . . Crime went down 65 percent on his watch. He is a fiscal conservative, there’s no question about that.
There is enough of the active conservative about Giuliani to allay fears over his social centrism. His executive experience compares favourably with McCain's senatorial experience, or even Romney's briefer gubernatorial one. So, assuming Rudy can get the nomination, what are his chances in the big one? In a fight between Giuliani and Clinton (or possibly Obama), where are the strengths, and what are the weaknesses?
If it is to be Giuliani against Clinton (as still seems the most likely match-up) the chips start to fall in Rudy's favour. This is because Clinton is an even more divisive figure than Giuliani: the lingering memories of the Clinton years provide a rich enough supply of mud to combat old photos of Giuliani dressed up as Marilyn Monroe. Giuliani's scandals revolve around sex; Clinton's around money and sex. Whoever wins the nomination for the Democrats will remain nailed to the left-wing 'webroot' half of their party - whose biggest cause is the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Against this Giuliani's reputation as a strong leader on national defence will play very well indeed. He is untainted both by Bush's foreign policy disasters and Democrat posturing and defeatism.
The race is Giuliani's to lose at the moment, both for the nomination and for the White House. But lose it he might. His temper is famously short, there are whole cemeteries-full of skeletons waiting in a variety of cupboards and, entirely out of his control, by the end of the Bush Presidency the Republican brand may be so tainted that not even Lincoln re-incarnated could win under it. Above all, it's a very long time from March to next November...


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