Midday: The Giuliani and Edwards Implosions
So what was it, exactly, that made the Republican front-runner barely an afterthought in six states? Michael Weiss wonders if Rudy's real appeal never really left the island of Manhattan. As for John Edwards, he never had a prayer.
January 30, 2008 - 9:04 am
A “temple-throbbing Italian-American New Yorker who ruled a cacophonous city seen as the very definition of liberalism.” Now how long has the New York Times been sitting on that description of Rudolph Giuliani?
When you consider that the mayor might have lost the primary in New York, betting all on Florida – “God’s waiting room” to so many erstwhile Gothamites – maybe didn’t seem so silly after all. But after his humiliating defeat last night, it seemed as if an army of eager political obituarists could finally crack its knuckles and settle down to work. Let’s see now… Was it his stance on abortion? Gay rights? The infield fly rule? Did he take his own celebrity for granted and fail to mug convincingly for the red states? The Pat Robertson endorsement was as awkward as it was sleazy. Dress up once in drag, and you’re just doing your duty in the megalopolis of camp. Dress up twice and you maybe preempt some of the gravitas of a wiry Colossus bestriding the Financial District. Or so the National Review claimed.
Giuliani was outflanked on every saleable characteristic as a Republican candidate. He was wise to shake the mantle of social conservatism, which he wore as convincingly Hillary did that Yankee cap in 2000. And no host of Riverside Drive wartime consiglieres could compete with McCain’s solidity on Iraq. (Though the counterinsurgency doctrine does seem to owe a debt to the “Broken Windows” theory of crime prevention.) His greatest economic coup was getting the Mouse to replace the Masturbator in Times Square. And if it was the touch of the divine the people wanted, well, he was no choirboy. What he had was 9/11, but his idol Churchill had World War II and that wasn’t enough either win an election in 1945.
But it’s the Times phrase I keep coming back to. The showy love life, the slab-cut friends with federal raps sheets, the addiction to inner circle loyalty, and the authoritarian style that inspired as much hatred as fear – the headlines, especially from the city that bore him up and then tore him down, spoke to what was perhaps most overlooked obsession with identity in this campaign. Was Rudy too Italian to be president?
New York magazine’s John Heilemann writes: “The deeper issue with Giuliani’s candidacy, though, was that it offered no coherent or compelling rationale for its existence. The notion that he could do for America what he did for New York City was always going to be a tough sell; the presidency is not a mayoralty writ national. Nor was Rudy’s post-9/11 performance ever going to be enough to carry him to the White House, for whatever you think of it on the merits, it was all about the past – and presidential campaigns are, at least nominally, about the future.”
Mark Halperin of The Page has ten suggestions for what Giuliani could have done differently. Three are: “Abandoned Iowa completely and concentrated on New Hampshire, coddling it with a major charm offensive and persuading it by demonstrating a drive to win… Allocated more funds for TV ads and less for mail and radio in early states… Cultivated members of the national press and tried to get to know (and be known by) them.”
“Giuliani’s failure reflects a broader shift in the American landscape,” write Ben Smith and David Paul Kuhn of The Politico, “in which Sept. 11 has so diminished as an emotional touchstone that neither The Gallup Organization nor The Pew Research Center has even polled Americans about the attacks for a half year.”
But it wasn’t about the failure of 9/11 to translate, says Ed Morrissey. “Only one televised ad featured 9/11, and then in the context of how Giuliani saw the city respond, not himself. Otherwise, outside of the glaring strategic error, Giuliani put together one of the most impressive teams of advisers ever seen in a presidential campaign. He had an administration ready to go on the Wednesday after the general election, a staff led by such notables as Charles Hill, Steve Forbes, Ted Olson, and many others. Did the media report on this? No.”
The National Review‘s John Hood thinks “Rudy’s strategy essentially succeeded – but he didn’t.” What was that strategy again? “It was to count on Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Fred Thompson to split the conservative vote in the early states, eliminating the possibility of a momentum candidate and allowing Giuliani to win the biggest January prize, Florida, and thus bounce most of the Super-Duper Tuesday pinballs into his slot, winning the game.”
The Daily News is sad: “Fifteen years ago, Rudy Giuliani, tough and talented, fearlessly challenged the dogma that hobbled New York. He made unpopular decisions that helped build the city of today. It was a rocky road, and he prevailed. This past year, he challenged the status quo of the Republican Party and got bested.”
John Edwards ran as a well-coiffed Huey Long and seemed to think that in the age of sacred terror, “Two Americas” were more important than the one Osama bin Laden lusts to see brought low. His economic policy was a bastardization of Ross Perot and Naomi Klein, and there was something just a touch pharisaic about a man advocating an end to American oil dependence with a driveway full of SUVs back home. Edwards’s appeal to the working-class wasn’t strong enough to wrest this important demographic away from Hillary Clinton.
Still, he was undoubtedly sincere in his concern for the poor (“Two Americas” owed a rhetoric debt to Michael Harrington’s seminal study of the domestic underclass, The Other America), and his wife was a fine example of a potential presidential spouse that would have been neither coy nor shrill.
Edwards’s withdrawal from the race comes as a surprise only because of his prior stubbornness to admit defeat even when it was apparent to all (he was the one, recall, that announced the Kerry-Edwards camp would not concede in 2004 until the seeming Michigan michegaas had been sorted.)
Today marks the effective end of his national political career, and his decision not to accept a vice presidential spot is moot because there is no Democratic front-runner who would offer this to him anyway. Unlike Giuliani, he has not decided to endorse a candidate yet, but if and when he does, he will likely declare for Barack Obama, his comrade in anti-Clintonism.
Edwards is still a winner in Jonathan Cohn’s book. The TNR writer says his electoral vice was actually a virtue: “[I]f Edwards wants to blame somebody for his defeat, he shouldn’t look at the media. He should look at himself. And I mean that in the best sense possible. Edwards’ biggest problem may have been that he was too compelling-so compelling that his rivals effectively adopted his agenda. From the beginning, Edwards was positioning himself as the champion of Americans struggling to get ahead financially. And rather than simply offer populist rhetoric, he backed it with a serious, comprehensive set of policies.”
Newsweek‘s Andrew Romano wonders about that endorsement after all: “A top aide to Edwards cautioned not to assume that Edwards would endorse Obama. “He’s gained a lot of respect for Hillary, for her toughness in all that she has been through.” That could just be a negotiating ploy on Edwards’s part. We’ll see.”
The Carpetbagger Report was thrown by the sudden skedaddle: “At this point, it’s hard to say what drove Edwards to end his campaign. He was clearly short on funding, and it’s possible he just didn’t have the resources to compete well enough to win delegates. Some of the reports this morning indicate that Edwards sees the race as a Clinton-Obama contest, and simply didn’t want to be the third wheel anymore.”
“There’s buzz about a possible Cabinet-level appointment,” buzzes Dana Goldstein at The American Prospect, “maybe even to attorney general. But others hope that released from the pressure of the presidential race, Edwards will become to anti-poverty work and populism what Al Gore is for the environment — a powerful national advocate above the partisan fray.”
Michael Weiss is the New York Editor of PJ Media. His blog is Snarksmith.