Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rudy and Hillary and Larry

So many developments, so little time:

Rudy Giuliani, whose social liberalism continues to be a drag on his Republican nomination prospects, dearly wants GOP conservatives to ignore that inconvenient truth and focus instead on his national security machismo.

That was the drill yesterday, when he soared like a hawk at the Republican Jewish Coalition confab in Washington. He said, with respect to Iran and its nuclear ambitions, that it's very important for America to keep all its military options on the table. Then he said, for emphasis, that it's very important for America to keep all its military options on the table. He also stressed, in case nobody heard him, that America should keep all its military options on the table. He also wanted everybody to know that "if I am president of the United States, I guarantee you, we will never find out what they will do if they get nuclear weapons, because they're not going to get nuclear weapons," and that's because he'll keep all military options on the table.

He never did address the thorny issue of consequences - such as the likelihood that the cost of a barrel of oil would soar in the aftermath of a U.S. military attack, and that such costs would be passed along to American motorists - but Rudy wants to stay focused right now on looking tough and stoking emotions and playing the 9/11 card in all its permutations...anything to potentially distract conservatives from his tolerant track record on social issues.

But I doubt that his rhetorical willingness to bomb Iran will get him off the hook this Saturday, when he is slated to address the religious conservatives' Values Voter Summit in Washington. Those folks are well aware of his longstanding support for abortion rights and gay rights, and many are already threatening to bolt the GOP if the party nominates a pro-choice candidate. They're clearly less than thrilled about Rudy; a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll reported that only 39 percent of evangelical Christians view him in a "somewhat positive" light, and that only 20 percent intended to back him during the primaries.

If Rudy renounces his pro-choice past, he'll look like just another flip-flopper, and undercut his straight-talking image; if he doesn't renounce it, he risks further alienating a lot of the GOP base (indeed, one Christian right leader endorsed rival Mitt Romney yesterday, pointedly saying that Romney, despite his Mormon faith, fills the bill "both personally and ideologically").

Rudy's intraparty quandary helps to explain why he's focusing so much these days on bashing Hillary. For instance, on Fox News last night, he said: "Honestly, in most respects, I don't know Hillary's experience. She's never run a city. She's never run a state. She's never run a business. She has never met a payroll. She has never been responsible for the safety and security of millions of people, much less even hundreds of people."

That's actually not a bad line of attack, especially coupled with his national security machismo. But it won't necessarily sell with those in the GOP base who see his social liberalism as a deal-breaker. The success of his candidacy will ultimately hinge on whether he can somehow becalm the base without alienating the socially tolerant GOP moderates who predominate in the big early primary states - notably California, New York, and New Jersey.


Speaking of Hillary-bashing, Barack Obama is pocketing his halo and ratcheting up the rhetoric. Yesterday he basically dismissed her as a poll-driven, conviction-free Machiavelli: "If every move you’re making is based on a static politics where you are looking backwards and 'this is what the polls tell me, this how much room we have to maneuver'’ll be a vast improvement over George Bush. But you are not going to deliver on the major challenges, and you are not going to set a broad vision for the country."

He's only doing this, however, because of his ongoing slide in the surveys of likely Democratic primary voters. Hillary's lead continues to widen; in one new poll, she is the favorite of 50 percent of likely Democratic voters - a fairly impressive figure, considering the large field of candidates.

I'd argue that Hillary has Obama right where she wants him: in a box. If he stays above the fray (his preference) and continues to advertise himself as a new kind of non-partisan pol, he'll continue to lose ground. But if he descends into the fray and tries to assail her directly, he'll look like just another partisan candidate - while exposing himself to Hillary's counterpunches.


Is Larry Craig secretly working for the Democrats, or what? The GOP's albatross surfaced yet again last night (on Matt Lauer's NBC show), and again this morning (on the Today show), defending his john habits, pleading convenient memory lapses, and wallowing in lame denials. At least Mark Foley was wise enough, last year, to quit his House seat and disappear. This guy, by sticking around and keeping himself in the news cycle, threatens anew to damage the battered Republican brand during the runup to '08.

"Matt, I use bathrooms for bathroom's sake...False rumor and innuendo...I go to the bathroom to use the bathroom for bathroom's sake...The facts have just got covered up...It didn't happen...I don't recall that...I don't agree with the (gay) lifestyle. And I've said so by my votes over the years..."

One hour of this. But my favorite part was when Lauer asked whether his fellow senators were shunning him. Lauer asked, "They're not parking in your parking spot?"

Craig: "They better not."

What better metaphor can there be, for an entrenched Washington politician who has pled guilty, has refused to accept the ruling of a state judge, and has compromised his party's purported "family values?" What could be worse for GOP morale than to have a tainted entrenched incumbent fighting in defense of his parking spot?