The maverick who can

In what is shaping up to be a fascinating election year, no candidate divides the commentariat and blogosphere as sharply as Rudy Giuliani.

Opinions vary from those who regard him as the hot favorite to those who say he will be crushed in the primaries, and could not, in any case win the general. On the whole I am in the camp that says he would be a formidable candidate in the general election. His proven ability to win over independents and Democrats more than counters the lukewarm feelings of the base. A Republican who pulled in an extra 5% in the North East and upper MidWest would pull in five states (and more than sixty electoral votes) that went for Kerry, as well as securing three otherwise doubtful states that narrowly voted for Bush. Slipping by 5% in the Bible Belt would cost the Republicans nothing, as the GOP margins in those states are huge.

Giuliani’s first, and much bigger, challenge is to win the primaries. And assessing his chances there is far from easy. Polls show him first or second in every state. But polls measure mostly name recognition at this point. Will socially conservative voters stick with Giuliani when they learn more about him? Inside the Beltway consensus is not. But we are no longer limited to public polls and Beltway commentators. Now we have the blogosphere.

Bloggers are, mostly, not professional pundits, but they are also not synonymous with the general electorate. Most bloggers already know of Giuliani’s messy divorces, his pro-choice stance on abortion and his sympathy for gay rights. These nuclear bombs, which are presumed to be fatal to his candidacy with the caucus goers of Iowa are already factored in by bloggers. And there is a strong pool of bloggers who sharply disagree with Giuliani on social issues, but have decided to back him anyway.

While professional pundits such as Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post and David Mark, former editor of Campaigns & Elections are convinced that Giuliani’s campaign will implode and John McCain’s will thrive, bloggers believe, and hope, that the reverse is true. McCain usually does very poorly in online polls.

The blogger Streiff is a great example. A contributing editor at the highly influential RedState he describes himself as “a Roman Catholic, pro-life near absolutist, social conservative”. He is fully aware that Giuliani’s views are very different from his own. But he also believes that Giuliani can be trusted, above any other candidate, to prosecute the long war in defense of America. The fact that Giuliani makes no efforts to pander to social conservatives is a plus, not a minus. Streiff knows exactly where he and Giuliani disagree, and is prepared to accept that in exchange for unparalleled leadership on national security.

Streiff believes that McCain, though an outspoken supporter of the War on Terror, would falter in the face of media criticism. He seems to crave adulation above all things. Giuliani, by contrast, “seems to get stronger under pressure, not weaker”. Other bloggers too, who parse the statements on abortion of other candidates for decades old signs of weakness, seem to give more regard to Giuliani’s forthright opposition than to the flawed support of more pragmatic men.

It comes down to trust. People trust Giuliani, and that will make him a more formidable candidate than the pundits expect


Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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