A Clinton Game Plan for Giuliani

Rudy Giuliani meets all but one of the criteria to be a  Republican nominee for President of the United States. He is ambitious. He is very smart and talented. He is exceedingly charismatic. Before Giuliani became mayor of New York, the conventional wisdom was that the city could not be governed. Giuliani proved that conventional wisdom wrong and brought about changes in New York that turned it into a different and vastly better city. And of course, Giuliani wrote himself into the pages of American legend thanks to his heroic response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

But Giuliani faces challenges as well. His positions on gay rights and abortion are anathema to many social conservatives. If the former mayor wants to make it to the general election, he will have to first win the trust and support of Republicans in the primaries and caucuses who will determine the identity of the next Republican nominee.

To win the presidency, Rudy Giuliani will have to find commonality on fundamental social issues with Republican voters. But he will have to challenge the Republican Party as well and point out its shortcomings. By doing so, Giuliani will be able to distinctly identify his governing philosophy and re-brand the image of the Republican Party to make both himself and his party more competitive in 2008. In addition, Giuliani can both help Republicans return to their philosophical roots and find common cause with conservative Republican primary and caucus voters who might not otherwise gravitate towards Giuliani’s candidacy because of his stance on issues like gay rights and abortion.

The challenge and re-brand tactic is recommended by Mark Halperin and John Harris in their book The Way To Win: Taking the White House in 2008. Halperin and Harris note that in 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton challenged the Democratic Party and changed its orthodoxy by putting out original positions on issues like addressing crime and welfare reform. The common perception of the Democratic Party was that it was soft on crime. Clinton helped alter this perception by pointing out that he supported and implemented the death penalty as governor of Arkansas and promising to increase the number of police on the streets when he became President. This Clintonian re-branding of the Democratic Party’s position on crime was so successful that in the 1997 British national elections, Labour Party leader Tony Blair spurred his party to victory — and himself to 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister — in part by promising to be “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.” Like Clinton, Blair faced the challenge of re-branding his party’s image on crime for electoral purposes. Like Clinton, Blair succeeded.

On the issue of welfare reform, Clinton promised to “end welfare as we know it.” In making this promise and in campaigning against the old welfare system, Clinton changed and re-branded his party’s image on welfare. For years, Democratic candidates were accused of supporting an excessively permissive welfare system that did not reward work and that gave welfare recipients an excuse to forsake work in favor of remaining on the public dole. But in 1992, thanks to the Clinton re-branding effort, Democrats were able to look compassionate but tough on the issue of welfare. Traditional Republican attacks on Democratic welfare policies were thus blunted and rendered ineffective.

The Clinton model was followed in the 2000 presidential campaign by Gov. George W. Bush, who promised a twist on the traditional governing philosophy advocated by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan in their respective campaigns for the presidency. Both Reagan and Goldwater campaigned on a platform that was distinctly conservative with strong libertarian elements, one of those elements being a strong emphasis on self-reliance and limited government. George W. Bush didn’t completely eschew the principle of limited government, but he did express his desire for a more “compassionate” brand of conservatism than the one the Republican Party traditionally adhered to. And in case his re-branding effort was not clear, Gov. Bush set himself apart from the then-Republican majority in Congress by decrying the supposed effort of congressional Republicans to “balance the budget on the backs of the poor.” During the Clinton years, Democrats had been able to limit the power and influence of a Republican Congress by portraying congressional Republicans as cruel and heartless — especially during the 1995 budget shutdown. With the promotion of “compassionate conservatism,” Bush was able to take the sting out of these attacks and rob the Democrats of a talking point against Republicans.

Giuliani can implement the Clinton-Bush tactic. Republicans are frustrated with the fact that government has grown dramatically despite the presence of a Republican President and — for six years out of that President’s term — a Republican Congress. Giuliani can replicate the Clinton-Bush tactic of challenging and re-branding the Republican Party by campaigning against this newfound Republican tolerance for expanded government and by presenting concrete proposals aimed first at reducing the growth of government, and then at shrinking government while making it smarter, more effective and more efficient. And unlike Clinton and Bush, Giuliani will derive an additional advantage from this challenge and re-branding effort; the ability to bridge the divide between him and Republican primary and caucus voters on social issues that currently separate them.

In line with showing how we can reduce the size of government, Giuliani can also campaign on devolving more power to the local level. Newly empowered states and localities can have more authority in setting education policy and in implementing school choice measures that will increase competition and benefit students. The Bush Administration and the Republican Party have failed to push for more local authority and for school choice and now there is a movement among Republicans to limit the effects of the No Child Left Behind Act, the argument being that state and local educational institutions “have increasingly become captive to federal testing mandates.” A Giuliani candidacy can distinguish itself and re-brand the Republican Party by returning it to its roots as a party skeptical of the concentration of power and authority in Washington and supportive of efforts to return power and authority to the local level.

By challenging and re-branding the Republican Party on the issue of small government, Rudy Giuliani can make himself and his party a formidable force in 2008. And while the nomination fight rages, Giuliani’s challenge and re-brand on the issue of small government will help him reach conservative Republican primary and caucus voters who might otherwise be turned off by his views on abortion and gay rights. It may be too much to say that the nomination is Rudy Giuliani’s to lose. But there is a clear path he can follow to win it.