Why I'm With Rudy (Part I)
He Made It Here, He'll Make It Anywhere
By Dan McLaughlin Posted in 2008 — Comments (88) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
No Mayor of New York City has been elected to statewide or national office in more than 130 years. There is a reason for that: it's an impossible job, running an ungovernable, bloated, corrupt and dysfunctional bureaucratic leviathan with an even more ungovernable and (despite its massive government) inherently lawless city attached to it. It eats the men who take the job alive.
At least, that is what everyone used to think, before 1993. One man changed that.
It's too early, of course, for any of us to be 100% certain of who we will support once the candidates have filled out their staffs and endorsements, fleshed out their policy platforms, and taken their show on the road. But if I had to vote today among the candidates who are actually running or likely to run, my vote for the 2008 GOP presidential nominee would without a doubt be former United States Attorney and New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Here, in general outline, is why I - as a pro-life Reaganite conservative who voted for McCain in 2000 - currently support Rudy and hope to be able to support him a year from now.
1. We Need To Win The War.
There are many issues on the table in the next election, but far and away the most important remains the global battle against international terrorism and radical jihad, and in particular the regional struggle in the Arab and Muslim worlds to replace aggressive, terror-sponsoring tyrannies and weak, terror-harboring failed states with governments that provide some measure of popular self-determination and popular legitimacy to stand against the extremists. To win the war, we need four things from the presidential field: (1) a presidential candidate who is committed to prosecuting the war, (2) a presidential candidate who will make the right judgments about how to do so, (3) a presidential candidate with these characteristics who will actually get elected, and (4) a presidential candidate who, after getting elected, can continue to explain and sell his policies to the American people to ensure continued political support for the war.
In terms of public leadership on these issues, Mayor Giuliani and Senator McCain have a huge lead over the other candidates, most of whom (other than Newt Gingrich) are latecomers at best to the public debate. If there is one candidate we can depend on not to bend to Beltway pundit fatigue on this issue, it's Mayor Giuliani - he was there on the ground when this war came to our shores, he was almost killed himself that day, he went to the funerals of the firemen and cops he had bonded with over his prior 7 and a half years as mayor. It's personal. Rudy is a battler; he is not tempermentally suited to talking about "exit strategies" but rather about victory, and his background overcoming supposedly insurmountable obstacles as Mayor gives him the fortitude to pursue victory as Ronald Reagan did, even when conventional wisdom says it's time to coexist.
2. We Need To Win The Election.
As I said above, you can nominate the best candidate in the world, but to win the war he or she needs first to win the election. In terms of electability. . . yes, it can be a fool's errand for primary voters to vote with their Electoral College calculators instead of their hearts, but in a practical universe you do need to start by looking at who in the field has at least a chance of being viable in a national election. That means no Newt, who consistently polls with a disapproval rating over 50% and whose public image is long since cast in concrete. And it also means no Sam Brownback. I like Brownback, who is one of the GOP's very best Senators and who has shown a real willingness to follow his conscience even when it means standing nearly alone, sometimes against the White House (as in the Harriet Miers episode), or even when it means taking on issues that nearly nobody else cares about and that don't fit the stereotype of a right-wing hard-liner. But we simply are not going to hold all the states Bush won in 2004, let alone have the chance to seize more ground, behind the decidedly uncharismatic Brownback, who has made his name almost exclusively on social issues as - yes - the stereotypical right-wing hard-liner. The media would work overtime to put him in that box, and Brownback lacks the star power to go over their heads. He's not the hill I want to die on.
Also, remember: while it's true that the Democrats made a huge miscalculation in nominating John Kerry based on "electability" (not that Howard Dean would have been more electable), their real problem was in overvaluing his paper qualifications (war record, long tradition of existence in the Senate) and undervaluing how badly Kerry would perform on the trail. I believe Rudy will show himself to be the best campaigner in the GOP field - he's quick-witted, funny, and long accustomed to the hot lights of the national stage (when he was Mayor, Rudy was a fixture on national TV shows like Letterman and Conan, and he had to contend with both the local tabloids and big national papers like the NY Times breathing down his neck, as well as dealing with hostile critics retail at countless press conferences and radio call-in appearances). He's also tough enough to come out swinging at whatever the most likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, can throw at him. This is one of my big worries about Mitt Romney: to be frank, I don't want to end up in a knife fight with Hillary armed with nothing but Mitt Romney's hair.
Sure, Rudy's liberal record on social issues like abortion and gay rights will cost him some votes nationally, but mainly in states that are not going to break for an arch-liberal Democrat like Hillary or Obama. And Rudy will play well in Florida and put in play key Northeastern states the Democrats can't win without: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, possibly even Rhode Island (which has a huge Italian-American population), and make the GOP ticket at least competitive in the Empire State (though he would probably only win NY if the Dems nominate Edwards). This is, after all, a man who won two terms in a city that's 80% Democrat.
3. Leadership Matters.
There's more to Rudy's advantages in this regard than just electability - there's also governability. It's been 23 years since the GOP nominated a presidential candidate who speaks in complete sentences. That matters beyond the campaign trail - it matters quite a lot if the president can't sell his own policies and can't personally defend against attacks. Rudy's not the only highly articulate candidate in this field, but he does strike me as the best (Romney, who's a good salesman, has yet to demonstrate the ability to react quickly and speak specifically when pressed with tough questions).
But being articulate is only the beginning of leadership. A good leader has to set direction and inspire. But he also has to do two other things: (1) know his followers and (2) follow through.
It's on the first point where I have my major concern about John McCain. With the significant exception of his years in the POW camp, McCain has never been a leader. Yes (unlike, say, Kerry), he's been a strong public voice on specific issues. But a political leader needs to have followers and hold them together, like Moses crossing the Sinai. McCain, by contrast, is a triangulator, a "maverick" who glories in contrasting himself to the people he would need to lead. John Hinderaker said it best: "I might trust McCain with my life, but not with my party." One need look no further than Bill Clinton to see what damage a president who triangulates can do to his own party and, ultimately, his own ability to get things done. McCain has, too often, opened fire on his own troops.
With the exception of his ill-fated endorsement of Mario Cuomo over George Pataki, Rudy has not made a practice of attacking his own party, a fact that sets him quite apart from many other moderate/liberal Northeastern Republicans. Virtually all the major battles of his mayoralty were with people to his left. Conservatives may not like where Rudy's starting point is on every issue, but they know when they get behind him they will all be facing in the same direction.
McCain has also been something of a dilettante as a Senator, flitting among issues, sometimes on the sidelines on major issues while leading the charge on small, idiosyncratic campaigns. That's a highly effective habit for a legislator - you pick your spots for where you can make the biggest impact. But it's a decades-long habit he will have to break to become an executive (in 2000 he never did roll out the kind of detailed policy papers that came from the Bush campaign - you always got the impression that the John McCain policy shop began and ended with the Senator's mouth).
Then, there's the follow-through, something we need more of than we have sometimes seen from President Bush. In the Senate they talk of show-horses and work-horses; if Rudy is an impressive show horse he is an even more formidable work horse, a guy who through sheer force of will bent the New York City government to his way of doing things. And he got results. Other politicians can point to a record of accomplishment, but only Rudy really and definitely changed my life - if it weren't for his success in cleaning up New York I might have stayed in Boston after law school and surely would not now be a New York City homeowner.
Again: Rudy's not the only seasoned executive in the race (Romney, Huckabee and Tommy Thompson come to mind), but his record is the most impressive and it's one that McCain and Brownback can't match.
4. We Can Hold The Line In The Courts.
Rudy's record on fiscal, economic, law enforcement and education issues, his battles against racial preferences and the city's relentless race hucksters, and his outspoken stance on the war on terror, are all the stuff that should excite conservatives about his candidacy. But what concerns people the most is his stance on social/family/sexual issues in general, and abortion in particular.
Now, maybe I'm less of a purist than some pro-lifers. I've been voting in New York for 17 years, and in all that time and all the races for Governor, Senator, Attorney General, Congressman, Mayor, and electors for president, the only two pro-lifers I've been able to vote for who actually won their elections were Al D'Amato's re-election to the Senate in 1992 and Dennis Vacco for Attorney General in 1994. Where I come from, if you refuse on principle to vote for pro-legal-abortion candidates, you cede the field to Hillary, Schumer and Spitzer and their ilk.
That said, and while I recognize that there are other Life issues on the agenda, the core battlefield for abortion - the battle we need to win before we can fight any others - is in the composition of the Supreme Court. A pro-choicer who appoints good judges is as functionally pro-life as Harry Reid is functionally pro-choice. (I have discussed this issue in much more exhaustive detail before). And while we need to hear much more from him on this issue, there is, thus far, every indication that Rudy is both willing to appoint conservative judges and able to sell them against a hostile Senate - he's spoken favorably of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who he knows from their days in the Reagan Justice Department.
And while Mike Huckabee is a solid pro-lifer and Sam Brownback is a genuine hero on life issues, the other top-tier candidates are less obviously reliable on this issue. Romney, of course, declared himself a committed pro-choicer in 1994, though his repeated conversions on the issue lend a lot of credence to Ted Kennedy's description of him as "multiple choice" on abortion. McCain has a more consistent pro-life record and voted to confirm the likes of Alito, Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, but three things concern me about McCain on judges - first, his demonstrable willingness to sell out the base to win media plaudits, second, his statements in 2000 that he'd like Souter-backer Warren Rudman as his Attorney General and that he remained proud of all the GOP Justices he'd voted for (which implicitly included Souter and Kennedy), and third, the fact that McCain's political identity is so wrapped up in his campaign finance crusade, a crusade that may influence him to pick judges who take the written constitution with its pesky free-speech guarantees less than seriously. I'm not saying I'm sold that Rudy would be necessarily better at appointing judges than Romney or McCain, but (1) it's a close contest and (2) he'd obviously be better than any Democrat.
Life issues are, indeed, important. And if this were peacetime, they would preclude me from supporting Mayor Giuliani. But there's a war on, folks, and a lot of lives (born and unborn) depend on that, too. In this field, if Mayor Giuliani can make the sale that he will, in fact, appoint solid constitutionalists to the federal courts, that will tide us through.
Anyway, I haven't covered the entire waterfront on Rudy here, and surely will return to other points in his favor - and other criticisms of him - as we go along. But I do think conservative Republicans who want to win the election, win the war and get results should give the Mayor a long, hard look.
*In the spirit of full disclosure: I do have a variety of ties to Rudy that are not worth tedious rehashing here, having met the man in small gatherings on several occasions and received a fellowship in law school funded by an organization including Mayor Giuliani. Take that for what it's worth. I'm not affiliated with his exploratory committee, and the only money I've received from it is a $30 Blogad on my site the past month.