Sunday, March 04, 2007

First We Take Manhattan...

Can Rudy Giuliani become the GOP nominee for president? It's the question that colors the entire republican nomination process. For months, pundits have dismissed Giuliani's chances with simple dismissals such as "Republicans always nominate the next guy in line (McCain)" or "As soon as the base finds out about Rudy's positions on social issues, his numbers will fall." Standing at the beginning of March, these judgements look less and less sound. Polls now show a widening gap between Giuliani and the oft-presumed front-runner McCain in the neighborhood of 20% among Republicans. The difference between reality and the conventional wisdom leads us to two questions: 1)"Does the Republican base know enough about Rudy's social positions for this to be factored into the race?" and 2) "Do Rudy's social positions actually prevent an unbeatable obstacle in his pursuit of the GOP nomination?"

I'll try and take them one at a time.
1) If the answer to this question is "yes" than question 2 is a mute point. If the base already knows Giuliani doesn't show it's views on social positions, then Rudy is home free. His numbers are rising and nothing short of a major gaffe is going to endanger them. If the answer is "no" then Giuliani is presented with a major problem, leading to question 2. If Giuliani has to overcome his differing social issues in order to be viable, how can he sell them to the base in a way to remain in the running?

2) Most pundits would say the answer to question 2 is "yes." I think the length of this campaign actually plays to Rudy's advantage, despite the conventional wisdom. Most pundits seem to believe that the longer Republicans are reminded about Rudy's social positions, the more likely they are to desert. However, even at this early stage of the campaign, the more Rudy is discussed (and always prefaced by his left-leaning positions on social issues) the higher his numbers seem to rise. This may not continue over time, however. Rudy's numbers will eventually level off and may fall after coming under sustained assualt by his opponents. However, I feel that the conventional wisdom seems to say that Rudy would govern America with exactly the same policies as he governed New York. This seems naieve. The answer to Rudy's social predicament is one word: Federalism.

Federalism is a lost tenet of the Republican platform. When out of power, it was easy for Republicans to demand that power be devolved to the states. Policies out of Washington were often anethema to Republican principles. However, after gaining control of congress and finally the presidency, it became all to easy to sweep federalism under the run in favor of good old fashioned republicanism (note the small "r") - order and morality at the expense of devolved authority. It spoke to hollow promises on the part of Republican politicians, revealing federalism as a means to an end rather than a core principle.

Giuliani, however, can make a convincing case for the resurrection of federalism in the Republican party. When you look around the country, states have taken the initiative on issues such as health care and the environment in a really remarkable way that speaks to the lie that action by the federal government is necessary in each of these arenas. Giuliani can say, with a great degree of credibility that issues like gun control, gay rights and reproductive issues were right for New York, but he would know better than to say they are right for everyone. The people of New York supported tight gun control. The people of the Northeast might feel the same way. But there is no reason to impose such a law on the people of states which disagree. This is the core of federalism and a very pragmatic stand on the part of a politician which would effectively take his social views off the table.

All Rudy has to do is make it clear that in a Giuliani administration, it wouldn't be the job of a president to decide social issues for each state. It's entirely consistent with all of his positions and entirely consistent with being pro-choice, even if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned in a more conservative court. This would have the secondary affect of assuaging the concern in the libertarian wing of the Republican party about Giuliani's statist leanings and could go along way toward knitting back together the fragmented Reagan coalition.

Rudy's candidacy is, I believe, the most facinating prospect in the entire field thus far. The potential strength of a pro-choice, pro-gun control, etc. Republican candidate for president is far more surprising than the strength of Barack Obama in the Democratic party, whose strength has been the subject of countless hours of talk by the talking heads. Only recently have pundits began to take Rudy's candidacy seriously. I was long frustrated by the dismissal of Rudy by the media and am glad to see this slowly changing. The next 10 months will be telling, but Rudy has a path to victory through federalism. His candidacy and, I believe, the nation would be greatly benefited if he were to follow it.

P.S. If the title of this post whet your appetite, enjoy this video, courtesy of the Beautiful Loser himself.
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