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Another Look At The GOP Horserace

The Christian Science Monitor takes a look at the state of the GOP nomination race and finds that McCain is sinking while Giuliani’s star on the rise. Now, given that there’s more than a year to go before the race even gets close to being determinative, it is interesting to note the general trends.

Powerline has video of Giuliani’s appearance on Hannity and Colmes this week (Part One and Part Two). What’s interesting about Giuliani is that he isn’t acting apologetic over his positions on the Second Amendment and abortion. He’s saying exactly what he believes, which isn’t where I would have gone, but might actually be a better course of action for him.

This approach has some huge upsides and some huge downsides. The biggest upside is that it preserves Giuliani’s rep as a straight-shooter, which helps him against McCain, but also is refreshing from an American politician. It’s rare that a politician will sit down and admit that he has his disagreements with the base of his (or her) party, and then show why they have common ground.

Of course, that leads to the huge downside: there are unquestionably socially conservative voters who will not vote for any candidate who is personally pro-life, even if they wish to see Roe v. Wade overturned as a matter of law or policy. However, Giuliani’s position is consistent, and may not be as unpalatable as some would think. The big question is how many people take the view that Giuliani’s views make him categorically unacceptable versus the number of independents he brings in.

My personal take is that he’ll bring in more than he loses. Evangelicals, even those who oppose abortion, aren’t generally the sort of fanatics that the press makes them out to be. Pragmatically, a Giuliani Presidency would move this country forwards in terms of respecting the lives of the unborn, at least when it comes to judges. Giuliani will have to answer some tough questions about federal statutes against partial-birth abortion, the Mexico City Protocols, and other abortion issues, but I think there’s a chance he can remain consistent in his views and still stand with conservatives.

I’m not alone in that assessment. As the Christian Science Monitor piece notes:

“I tend to think if Giuliani catches fire, he could win” even the South Carolina primary, says Dick Bennett, a nonpartisan pollster based in New Hampshire, who has been polling in early nominating states. The key is that South Carolina has an open primary, meaning that independents can vote.

The bigger question here is why Rudy Giuliani, a relatively liberal Republican is beating the arguably more conservative John McCain. Larry Sabato notes the phenomenon:

“Is it that Republicans are saying to themselves, ‘McCain is too close to this unpopular president and this unpopular war’?” says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “Or are they saying, ‘I never liked McCain, I can’t swallow him, he has too many problems, like age and temper, and I’ve always liked Giuliani’? I think it’s a bit of everything.”

“It’s very revealing – the intensity of anti-McCain sentiment out there among Republicans,” Mr. Sabato adds. “I encounter it whenever I give a talk.”

I think it comes down to the Aretha Franklin factor: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Evangelicals don’t trust McCain since he trashed them in 2000. Fiscal conservatives don’t trust him on taxes. Small government conservatives don’t trust him because of McCain-Feingold. Anti-war voters don’t trust him because he’s the President’s most stalwart supporter on the war. While McCain has made an effort to reestablish his conservative street cred, he hasn’t yet been able to repair those bridges with key Republican groups quite yet.

Giuliani, on the other hand, cannot be accused of pandering. He’s taken the Straight Talk Express theme that McCain used to have as a centerpiece and made it his own. McCain seems to be pandering, while Giuliani appears to be the more principled of the two. When it comes right down to it, conservatives tend to trust Giuliani, and not trust McCain.

Of course, this analysis leaves out the influence of the other candidates, mainly Mitt Romney who could easily be the beneficiary of a McCain-Giuliani split, as well as dark horses like Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee. However, the trend lines are unmistakable — Giuliani’s waxing while McCain wanes. This far out, anything could happen, but what is truly interesting is despite the predictions that conservatives really don’t like Rudy Giuliani, they keep stubbornly insisting on supporting him. While there’s evidence that his record may take the shine off of that support, it hasn’t happened yet. It’s still a wide open race, and will be for probably another 12 months or so, but it does show that some of the conventional wisdom about this race may not be as strong as one would think…

6 responses to “Another Look At The GOP Horserace”

  1. Mark says:

    If the Republicans were smart, they’d look past the overhyped Big Three and come to appreciate the diamond in the rough they have in Mike Huckabee. If there’s any 2008 candidate capable of holding the 2000 and 2004 Bush coalition of God and Mammon, it’s Huckabee. He’s an unashamed evangelical conservative who sells himself as a moderate and would not scare away swing voters the way that fellow righties Gingrich and Brownback would. He would consolidate the red states and boost evangelical turnout in purple states like Iowa, Ohio, and Colorado in a way that McCain and Giuliani wouldn’t. He has a decent resume as Governor of Arkansas. He has a great personal story of an underdog rising to the top (and losing an evil twin’s worth of weight as well). And, of course, he has no connection to the disastrous war in Iraq.

    Huckabee may well have some liabilities that would hurt his candidacy, but I don’t know of any yet….and whatever his liabilities may be would almost have to pale in comparison to those of the Big Three, all of whose nominations would ignite an embarrassing civil war in the Republican Party. Huckabee would almost certainly avert such a civil war and unite the GOP’s values voters and robber barons for at least one more cycle.

    McCain and Romney would certainly have what it takes to knock out Hillary Clinton and perhaps even Obama and Edwards, but I can’t understand why Republicans would chance it when they have an affable and ideologically like-minded candidate like Huckabee on the bench. As of now, it warms my heart to see the Republican party so clueless that it’s honestly flirting with the nomination of inevitable landslide loser Rudy Giuliani for President, but GOP operatives have proven themselves savvy in the candidate selection process in the past, so it concerns me that they may see the light and realize that Huckabee is their beacon at some point in the next 11 months.

  2. Aaron says:

    Mark,

    I agree! Huckabee is the best bet for the GOP. They better wake up

  3. Splashman says:

    I’m one of those scary fundy right-wingers. In the general election I’d vote for a principled Dem before I’d vote for a finger-in-the-air, back-stabbing “Republican” like McCain. I’ll grant him his bravery/patriotic props, but as a candidate he turns my stomach. Of course, since there will be no principled Dem in the race, I’d hold my nose and vote McCain if he was the Repub nominee.

    That’s the general election. McCain has zero chance for my vote in the primary. Of the contenders, I’d be content with Romney or Guiliani. Neither excite me, but they’ve both proven they can get things done, and neither has fathered a bastard bill that restricts free speech at election time.

  4. Giuliani has a lot of skeletons in his closet, so he may not stay on top for long. Rudy would bring all his corrupt buddies along with him to the White House. I’m sure he’d make Bernard Kerik his Secretary of State if given the chance.

  5. Erica says:

    Of all the Republicans out there, Giuliani is the one I am most likely to vote for. His lack of interest in panty-sniffing is quite refreshing.

  6. I’ve decided I don’t really like any of the putative candidates for the nomination of either party; if I had to pick one to go with, it would probably be Romney.

    And about those “moderates” that the press usually gushes about… I wonder if it’s because there’s some skeleton in the closet they can unleash once they have the nomination?