December 16, 2015
Chris Christie is now officially channeling Rudy Giuliani. There was always some similarity. Two brash executives from the Greater New York Area who sound tough enough to win Republican votes, but have more moderate records than their primary opponents.
Each ran four years too late. In an alternative universe where Al Gore gets a few extra votes in Florida, and 9/11 still happens, Rudy Giuliani is easily nominated as the 2004 GOP candidate, even if he runs a crappy primary campaign.
Twelve years out of the White House, fewer years removed from the terror attack, conservatives are far more likely to overlook his pro-choice abortion position. Mitt Romney is early in his term as Massachusetts governor and can’t run.
Mike Huckabee is still in office in Arkansas, has less time to camp out in Iowa, and is less likely to catch on as a social conservative hope with more concern about domestic safety.
John McCain has never held the trust of conservative activists. Giuliani could have run to his right and emphasized his executive and disaster management skills.
Instead of abandoning Iowa and New Hampshire, he could have competed strongly enough against a social conservative in Iowa and had a good shot against McCain in New Hampshire. For all the legend of his 2008 comeback against Romney, McCain did not match his 2000 numbers.
Back in the real world, when he actually did run in 2008, Rudy didn’t want to get embarrassed by trying and failing in either early voting state (or South Carolina for that matter), and as we know, failed miserably, one of the historically worst performances for someone who was a long-term front runner.
In retrospect, trying to market yourself as a tough leader while ducking primary challenges is an impossible sale. Fighting a land war in Asia is a better percentage bet than skipping Iowa/New Hampshire under the best of circumstances.
A few of us still wonder what might have been if Rudy slugged it out in New Hampshire the way Christie is. At the time, he was worried about Romney, a relative local, who wound up winning the state in 2012, and McCain.
It was a task. Both of his primary opponents are often spoken poorly of now, but it’s not easy to win a major party nomination. They weren’t pushovers. McCain had a strong brand, Romney a strong infrastructure.
But this year’s field is stronger. Jeb Bush is a fairly similar candidate to Romney and is getting clobbered. Marco Rubio is more competitive than Fred Thompson. If you have any doubt Ted Cruz is superior to Huckabee, just look at how Huck is doing with Ted around.
And then there’s Trump. Whatever McCain’s considerable skills and connection to Granite State voters, he didn’t possess the ability to monopolize public discourse for weeks at a time.
McCain had a few reporters camped out on his bus, Trump has the entire media-industrial complex by the tail. The minute Christie gets close to him in New Hampshire polls, we’re going to hear about everything that ever went wrong in New Jersey 24/7, until or unless his polls drop from 24% to 7%.
If Christie pulls this off, Rudy probably could have too. It’s as close as we’re going to get to a do-over. The New Jersey governor has two key advantages.
First, he’s an underdog. People aren’t yet paying that much attention to Christie on a national scale. Aside from Rand Paul’s snarky remark about Bridgegate during the debate, opponents are generally quiet.
Rubio isn’t running ads showing Christie hugging President Obama as they toured Hurricane Sandy damage. That’s the more visible part, but it also allows him to focus on a single issue–national security.
A front runner is expected to cover a larger range of items. Not necessarily in a stump speech or town hall, but in debates and media appearances. This lets Christie find a target, lock in a base and have people remember what he cares about.
While Jeb Bush is now an underdog, he began as a front runner, and is still stuck covering a range of topics. Beyond his tete-a-tete with Trump, we’ve already completely forgotten what he said during the debate.
Giuliani faced exactly the same problem as Jeb. This was exacerbated by the second issue. Timing. Terrorism is a fresh concern, likely more of a worry now than any time in the last 10-12 years.
In late 2007, early 2008, it was arguably less of a worry than any point since 9/11. Nothing had blown up on American soil recently. Anthrax attacks and D.C. snipers forgotten. Fort Hood was still in the future.
Even Republicans were burned out on Iraq. The surge was looking promising, but McCain owned that issue, being the first to back the administration. Giuliani was the national security candidate, McCain the hawkish foreign policy expert.
Today, Rubio is attempting to fill the McCain role. However, he’s not a decorated ex-POW, and the equation is tilted more towards keeping the homefront safe.
While there’s little unanimity about how and where to intervene, the vast majority of non-Paullist Republicans are on board with Christie’s approach.
Those advantages are offset by Giuliani’s performance under fire in 2001 and his superior record in office. I’m sure Christie was an excellent prosecutor, but Rudy was heroic.
There are various positive spots in Christie’s record, but New Jersey has suffered multiple downgrades, and limited job growth, while the governor is unpopular.
Giuliani left office while still popular, and managed this in a city bluer than New Jersey. He also had a great record in reducing crime and did well on budgetary matters. He’s one of the most successful mayors of the 20th century.
Normally mayor is not a stepping stone to the White House. It’s happened approximately never. But the NYC mayor is more powerful than most and the city has a larger population than most states, just slightly less than New Jersey (8.9 million to 8.4).
Overall, it’s as close as you can get to a tie. Giuliani was out of office, so he didn’t have to balance blue constituents against red primary voters. But he was out of office, so he hadn’t won an election in 11 years (1997 re-election) and hadn’t run since his abortive senate campaign in 2000.
Christie looks far stronger than Jeb or John Kasich. He’s already in the 10-12% range in New Hampshire and could double that if he can consolidate the Bush/Kasich votes.
That would still leave him short of where Trump is now, and expecting Christie to take that many of Rubio’s current supporters (his Real Clear Politics average is 12%) is pushing it. However, if Cruz beats Trump in Iowa, Christie could easily pick up some moderate Trump leaners.
Especially under that scenario, Christie can win the Granite State, much as I believe Giuliani could have in 2008.
Many of the candidates did well in the debate. The quality of Christie’s performance wasn’t notably stronger than most, if you want to argue any one of 4 or 5 candidates did better, I’ll concede your point.
Of all the candidates, Christie helped himself the most toward his immediate goal. Having a clear plan, clear target, nowhere to go but up, and few direct shots from opponents is a great place to be.
Let’s see if he can close the deal before the others realize how much of a threat he is.