Is Rudy Giuliani The Republican Howard Dean?

One of my hypotheses was that Mayor Rudy Giuliani could well be the Republican Peyton Manning.  Under this theory, Giuliani’s chances of winning the big game — like those of Manning — have been wrongly discounted by experts in the field.  Given the changing issues and face of the Republican party, Giuliani could possibly do what many thought impossible, and win as a socially moderate-to-liberal Republican.

But as the campaign unfolds, the analogy between Manning and Giuliani is looking less and less appropriate.  Instead, Giuliani is looking more and more like an entirely different figure:  Democratic Chairman Howard Dean.

To understand the eerie similarities between the Dean campaign and the Giuliani campaign, one needs to understand the history of the surprising alliance between Dean and the Democratic Left.

While many Republicans think of Dean as the embodiment of leftism in America, his tenure as Governor of Vermont was decidedly middle-of-the-road, especially for a solidly blue state.

Faced with a budget deficit upon taking office, Dean moved to balance the budget — an altogether different tack than the general Democratic/Keynesian preference for deficit spending on generous social programs.  He eventually cut taxes.  In the face of a state Supreme Court ruling mandating gay marriage or its equivalent, Dean opted for the latter, and signed a more-moderate civil unions law into effect.  Dean was even endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

Accordingly, he was seen as something of a centrist DLC candidate, and his early endorsements lagged those of other major candidates.  But the Iraq War changed everything.  The left wing of the Democratic party was energized, and suddenly Clinton-style balanced budgets were no longer in vogue.  Instead, the Democrats looked for a loud, strong voice who could capture the hearts and minds of the party, and could speak with precision their opposition to the Bush Administration, and to the Iraq War.  And, it turned out, Howard Dean was their man.  The fact that Dean had a decidedly moderate voting record didn’t matter, as his passionate opposition to the war and claim to represent the “Democratic wing of the Democratic party” propelled him to the top of the polls, and a seemingly inevitable Presidential nomination.

In the end, though, Dean was undone by what made him so attractive to his supporters.  His brash style wowed crowds, but caused voters to question whether he really was electable.  He then fell into a battle with the campaign of Congressman Richard Gephardt in Iowa, which lowered both candidates’ standings with the voters.  After leading in most of the pre-caucus polling, Dean placed a disappointing third.  In a post-caucus rally, Dean let loose his famous primal scream, and the rest, well, was history.
Rudy’s campaign currently seems like an accelerated version of Dean’s campaign in fast motion.  Giuliani’s liberal social record as Mayor of New York City is well-known.  He was unabashedly pro-choice, pro-civil unions and gay-friendly, and even endorsed Governor Mario Cuomo in 1994 against a pre-left-turn George Pataki. 

Then came 9-11.  Giuliani performed brilliantly, becoming known as “America’s mayor.”  Throughout the 2004 campaign, he gave a speech in support of George W. Bush’s nomination at the Republican convention that can only be called inspired.  As a result of his straight talk and impassioned defense of the War on Terror (added to his credentials as a tough-on-crime Mayor who cleaned up a city that some called ungovernable), Giuliani found himself catapulted to the top of the GOP nomination polls.  Oddly, polls showed that it was conservatives who were the strongest in their support for Giuliani.  Like Dean, the Iraq War had Giuliani won converts that he otherwise could not have hoped to win.  And while his overall first-quarter fundraising was not as spectacular as Mitt Romney’s, Giuliani raised a huge amount of cash — $10 million — in the month of March alone.  By the end of March, Giuliani looked like a clear frontrunner.

But like Dean, Rudy’s most endearing quality — his frank, shoot-from-the-hip way of communicating — is beginning to threaten his candidacy. This is a disaster waiting to happen, and it did. Rudy first made statements in a CNN interview that seemed to support federal funding for abortion, a position that, while included in every Democratic party platform since 1988, is well outside the national mainstream. Shortly after that, he took the position that a strict constructionist judge would not necessarily vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Giuliani later backtracked, but the damage was done.  What seemed to be cautiously optimistic support on sites like RedState has turned into outright hostility.  His most recent pronouncement social conservatives to “get beyond” issues like abortion looks more like a stick in the eye of movement conservatives, rather than the thoughtful embrace of federalism the mayor had previously pursued.  His standing in the polls is beginning to drop, especially in the face of a potential challenge from former Sen. Fred Thompson.

There is still time for Giuliani to right the ship.  Most of the Mayor’s problems stem from a lack of preparation, and could be fixed with better preparation.  Looking at the transcript of the CNN interview, Giuliani seemed genuinely surprised by the public funding question, and gave a confusing answer that sounded, quite frankly, awful.  He needs to consider carefully every possible policy question that he could be asked, and have a ready, prepared answer.  He needs to spend some time reading Justice Scalia’s “A Matter of Interpretation,” and then decide whether a strict constructionist could really vote for Roe v. Wade. Overall, Hizzoner simply needs to stop shooting from the hip, even if it means sacrificing some of the sincerity and un-scripted honesty that makes him so endearing.  If he doesn’t, his scream may come before Iowa.