Proving that American politicians are always looking toward the next election on the horizon, this week two high-profile Republican politicians established exploratory committees in advance of the 2008 presidential election.
It’s no secret that Arizona Senator John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudolph ‘Rudy’ Giuliani have long been considered front-runners for the GOP nomination. Speculation regarding McCain’s run had intensified leading up to the 2006 election season. It was finally solidified when he announced the committee’s formation to great media fanfare, just days after the historic election. Giuliani quietly followed suit.
In recent days, polls have started to pit the potential opponents against one another. Unsurprising results tag Giuliani with a lead among strong conservatives, while McCain held on to his base of moderates. Giuliani has held a lead over McCain in polls concerning the GOP nomination.
Both men are media-ready figures with strong name recognition – ultimately, it will be the issues that decide who would run a more successful campaign. Undoubtedly, it is his post-9/11 leadership that has skyrocketed Rudy to the front of the pack. Some party diehards have deemed McCain, the so-called ‘maverick’ Senator and champion of moderate Republicans, a Republican-In-Name-Only. Ironically enough, McCain has a more socially conservative record than their beloved Rudy.
Giuliani, who is neither a social nor cultural conservative, has supported same-sex marriage initiatives and opposed partial-birth abortion bans. Conservatives laud Giuliani’s tough-on-crime position, yet the party seems to have ignored his support for gun control legislation.
Is his 9/11 legacy really enough to save Rudy from the dubious distinction of being a social moderate? Without the support of social conservative voters in the key early primary states, Giuliani won’t stand a chance at winning the Republican Party nomination. Although New Hampshire doesn’t pose a threat, stringent GOP voters in Iowa and South Carolina may not be likely to back a pro-choice candidate. If his exploratory committee does its job, this issue should be red-flagged early on.
Issues pertaining to family values could hurt the former mayor as well. Although McCain is also a divorcee, Giuliani’s tumultuous split was tabloid fodder for months. His well-publicized extramarital affair isn’t likely to help Giuliani make any new friends within the established Christian right – even if he did make it legal after marrying his mistress. McCain has begun to play to this faction of the party and has since reunited with Jerry Falwell after their falling out in the 2000 election season. Distancing himself too far from the religious right proved to be instrumental in McCain’s undoing. Giuliani runs the same risk.
Many have touted this most recent election as a signal to the Republican Party that it must play to a new era of dominant independent voters. I see this as a misread of the election results. The truth is, the Republican Party couldn’t even convince some of its own to vote on party lines this year. In light of media hype over the Foley scandal and disillusionment with the war in Iraq among other issues, voters handed control of Congress over to the Democratic Party. Still, many key races – especially in the Senate – were only lost to the Democrats by a slim margin. The most important issues for conservative voters haven’t changed much, and McCain has distanced himself just far enough from the Bush administration to be politically advantageous. He has positioned himself as a true fiscal conservative and has often denounced the extreme growth of federal spending. McCain’s criticism of troop levels in Iraq has gained recent attention.
While Giuliani continues to weigh his options, I think it will become clear that he is not a viable presidential candidate. I can’t help but wonder if Giuliani’s run could turn into nothing more than a glorified bid for the vice-presidency, or even a cabinet position. Former McCain aide Marshall Wittman said it best: “I think Rudy would make an attractive secretary of state or secretary of defense in a McCain administration.”
Pomaranski is a member of the class of 2010.