Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Opinionator: A blog at the NY Times by Tobin Harshaw & Chris Suellentrop

Rudy, Play Like a Champion Today: His Republican opponents seem not to have noticed, but Rudy Giuliani is winning the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, says The Weekly Standard’s Matthew Continetti in a cover story on the state of Giuliani’s presidential bid.

“The conventional wisdom holds that as grassroots conservatives wake up to Giuliani’s differences with them on issues like abortion, they will ditch him in favor of someone else,” Continetti writes. “That may be happening to some extent, but it hasn’t knocked Giuliani out of first place or undermined the rationale for his candidacy.”

Continetti doesn’t discount the considerable obstacles facing Giuliani on his way to the nomination. For one thing, his lead is shrinking:

Charles Franklin, a political scientist and polling expert at the University of Wisconsin, estimates that the mayor’s support has fallen around 8 percentage points nationally since March. The trend in support for Giuliani in Iowa and New Hampshire is also downward. So far, Sen. John McCain’s estimated 10 percentage point decline nationally, and the hemorrhaging of cash and staff from his campaign, has overshadowed Giuliani’s downward trend. But the trend is there.

Continetti adds, “And all of this is just the beginning. The attacks on Giuliani’s business interests, former associates, and operatic personal life will mount as 2008 approaches.”

Still, Republican primary voters see two reasons to stick with Giuliani, Continetti says. One, they want to beat Hillary Clinton, who they presume will be the Democratic nominee, and they think Giuliani is the most electable Republican in the race. Two, Republican voters seem to think Giuliani is the candidate who can win the war in Iraq. Continetti writes:

When audiences question Giuliani, they tend to ask him about the war and what he would do to prosecute it. In the day I spent following Giuliani across western Iowa, during which the mayor spoke to hundreds of people, exactly two audience members asked him questions dealing with social issues. One man wanted to know about Giuliani’s “family, faith, and politics.” One woman wanted to know the mayor’s stance on gay rights. And that was all. It may be that the audiences who go see Giuliani are self-selected–that is, those voters who would ask social-issues questions know how he differs from them, and so don’t bother to go at all. It also may be that the Republican party is undergoing a genuine realignment in priorities.

There is no doubt that “a Giuliani candidacy would alter the Republican party,” Continetti writes. “For one, it would de-link the Republican presidential nominee from opposition to Roe v. Wade for the first time in decades. And it would divorce the Republican presidential nominee from much of the conservative movement for the first time since 2000.”

Fortunately for Giuliani, “Many people, including most of his competitors for the Republican nomination, don’t seem to have thought through the consequences of Giuliani’s ascendance,” Continetti concludes. He adds, “It could be that most Republican elites assume the prospect of a Giuliani nomination to be so unlikely that they act as if he were not in the race at all.”

And they may not figure it out until it’s too late.