Thursday, February 08, 2007

"Electable" Rudy and the new conventional wisdom

It has been Rally ‘Round Rudy Week in Republican politics. In the wake of the news that Rudy Giuliani has filed paperwork for an ’08 presidential candidacy, the conventional wisdom – that his prospects for winning the GOP nomination are roughly on a par with Paula Abdul winning an Emmy – now seems ripe for revision.

Most people familiar with the internal GOP dynamic have long assumed that Giuliani would be dead meat at the starting gate, that conservatives (who dominate the nomination process) would never give their blessing to a candidate who has spoken favorably about gay rights and abortion rights. Indeed, a noteworthy number of folks on the right still feel that way; the other day, religious conservative leader Tony Perkins equated Giuliani with the pollution in the Potomac River, and Tom DeLay, the indicted ex-congressional leader, told CNN yesterday that “I can't vote for somebody that's for abortion.”

But now a counter-narrative seems to be developing. Many conservatives seem increasingly willing to bypass their qualms about Giuliani’s social views (not to mention his personal life, which features three marriages) and focus on what they view as his positives – namely, his 9/11 leadership aura, his tough guy persona, his image as an authority figure who has long waged war against evil-doers large and small (terrorists, Mob guys, white-collar scammers, graffiti artists). Disappointed by the Decider, they still yearn for a Leader.

This sentiment helps to explain why Giuliani is besting John McCain in the latest polls. The survey team at Fox News now says that grassroots Republicans now favor Giuliani over McCain by 34 to 22 percent; and Republicans are telling Gallup that they would rather trust Giuliani to handle a crisis, by 68 to 20 percent.

And members of the conservative punditocracy are increasingly bullish on Giuliani. John Podhoretz, the columnist at Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, wrote two days ago that Giuliani’s social views are no big deal, not when compared to the strengths he would bring to the momentous ’08 presidential race: “(T)he Republican party is the party of strength at home and abroad, and, for many, Rudy Giuliani personifies that.” Moreover, he asserts, conservatives should understand that “on the key issue of our time – the struggle of the West against Islamic extremism – they’ll never have a better or more staunch ally and leader.”

For some conservatives who have been critical of President Bush’s execution of the Iraq war, Giuliani is increasingly viewed as some kind of contemporary Churchill who can help us shrug off the disastrous miscues and point the way forward. Here’s columnist George Will, with an argument that was billboarded on Fox News the other day: “Let me make the case of Giuliani. People are going to ask what I call the seven-minute question. Nightmare scenario, you're the security adviser. You're awakened in the middle of the night. You have three minutes to get the details of an attack coming on the U.S. And then the president, who you notify, has four minutes to answer. That's seven minutes. Which candidate fits the seven-minute question?"

And here's Emmett Tyrell, scion of the American Spectator magazine, arguing in the New York Sun today that conservatives should acquaint themselves with Giuliani's recent history: Prior to 9/11, he "had already demonstrated his awareness of the danger and nihilism of terrorists. In 1995 he expelled...Yasser Arafat from commemorations of the United Nations' 50th anniversary sponsored by the city, saying, 'When we're having a party and a celebration, I would rather not have someone who has been implicated in the murders of Americans there.' Mr. Giuliani's knowledge of international terrorism has steadily grown to the point that he is now acknowledged as one of the world's foremost authorities on terror. That alone in these times should commend him to the majority of the American electorate."

Ditto Richard Brookhiser, a senior editor at the magazine National Review. Yes, he does believe that Giuliani’s social views “sit there like turds in a punch bowl.” But forget all that, because “in war, one needs a war leader who may be otherwise unacceptable…Giuliani saved a city with a larger population than Arizona, Massachusetts, or Virginia…He helped city and country take a harder blow than Pearl Harbor” – achievements, in Brookhiser’s view, that trump anything offered by any Republican rivals.

And as for those aforementioned “turds” in the punch bowl, some prominent conservative bloggers say they are willing to accept, at face value, Giuliani’s promise to appoint conservative judges. He reiterated that promise the other night during a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity, whose fawning questions made Larry King look like Mike Wallace (in itself, another sign, that the conservative media is willing to indulge Rudy’s rise).

Giuliani is clearly planning to pitch himself as America’s Crisis Manager, the cool head in a crisis era (notwithstanding the fact that he has a well-deserved reputation for being hot-tempered and thin-skinned). He told Hannity: “Being mayor of New York was a crisis a week and an emergency every other day. And you get used to it. I mean, you get used to being able to keep focused, to take advice, understand that you can’t get too excited on any one situation. You’ve got to remain focused, and you have to remain optimistic about the result….We’re at war. And we’re at war because (terrorists) are at war with us…They want to come here and kill us.”

Actually, conservatives intrigued by Giuliani will have to overlook some inconvenient truths that mar his 9/11 icon image – such as the well-documented evidence that as mayor he defied his security advisors and placed the city’s crisis command unit inside the World Trade Center, even after the initial 1993 attack; and that he failed to replace the fire department’s outmoded emergency radios prior to 9/11, even though there had been warnings, dating back to 1990, that lives would be lost in the event of a major disaster unless he acted promptly.

But those are mere details. What conservatives want most is a candidate who can win, particularly since they fear (justifiably or not) that they could be facing a Hillary Clinton juggernaut next year.

There are, of course, purists in the ranks who would never countenance Giuliani. But most conservatives have long demonstrated that they will tolerate imperfection, in exchange for attaining the ultimate goal: Power. That trait represents Giuliani’s best hope.