Rudy's Success is Straight Out of Bush's Playbook
Over the long weekend, I went and picked up a copy of Applebee's America, interested in gaining some insight from Matthew Dowd, the President's chief poll-meister in the last election. This quote on page 14 of the book really jumped out at me:
Both presidents [Clinton and Bush] understood that the so-called values debate runs deeper than abortion, gay rights, and other social issues that are too often the focus of the political elite in Washington. Voters don't pick Presidents based on a laundy list of policies. If they did, President Bush wouldn't have stood a chance against Al Gore in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004. Rather, policies and issues are mere prisms through which voters take the true measure of a candidate: Does he share my values?
How does this relate to the fight we're currently gearing up for? Just consider this.
Rudy supporters argue that issues aren't as important as leadership. Socially conservative voters know about Rudy's numerous disagreements with them over the years, but have chosen to ignore them because he's a strong leader who shares their values, broadly defined. He has established an enduring bond with Republicans that transcends his positions on the issues, what the authors call a "Gut Values Connection."
McCainiacs believe that once people take a closer look at Rudy's point-by-point stands on the issues, they will rally to McCain. Conservatives may not like McCain personally, but the usual litmus test issues will disqualify Giuliani and conservatives will learn to swallow McCain because he nominally agrees with them on one or two important issues.
Based on everything we've been learned about how the last election was won -- from the highest levels of the Bush campaign -- which seems more plausible? Which seems more realistic? Which seems like the smarter strategy?
I fear that otherwise smart people who are swooning over McCain are unlearning every lesson about how Bush won, how Clinton won, and how Reagan won, and this portends grave and hidden dangers should he get into a general election situation. The voters in those elections didn't dutifully mark off the League of Women Voters checklist... Life--check. Guns--check. Gays--check. They went on gut instincts. Even Bush's bond with the Christian Right in the 2000 primary was forged by the story of his acceptance of Jesus Christ in mid-life, not his pro-life views.
We already have indications that Rudy knows how to speak the language of religious America -- and that the gut level connection he forged with conservatives five years ago only strengthens the more people see of him.
It should be said that McCain has forged gut-level connections too -- but with Democrats and independents, not Republicans. (If there were such a thing as a negative Gut Values Connection, that's where McCain would be with conservatives.) Conservatives aren't being asked to accept him as who he is. They are being asked to accept him as the Machine Candidate. And that will be his downfall, because it's a strategy that's inherently disconnected from what voters actually believe.
Giuliani '08 isn't some quixotic, haphazard, late-to-the-game effort. It would be based on the soundest, most fundamental strategic insight from campaigns from Reagan to Clinton to George W. Bush. McCain's folks can run around fretting about tactics all they want. All it means is that the stage will be very crowded for his concession speech.