How Rudy Could Pull It Off
Is it just me, or is the conventional wisdom beginning to move back in our direction?
And is McCain-Romney just Republican for Dean-Gephardt?
Flash back to a couple of weeks ago, when McCain and Romney exchanged hot words over the detainee issue. The vicious back-and-forth has been going on at the staff level for months, and in fact some crude hits by Pat Hynes on Romney from a few months ago were a surefire sign he was doing McCain's bidding. Two weeks ago was the first time this hostility sprung out in the open. Lately, Romney's high-profile recruitment of Chris Rants in Iowa, Tom Rath in New Hampshire, and some notable figures yet to be named in South Carolina suggests that he is effectively going tit-for-tat with McCain in establishment support, and McCain isn't quite the frontrunner people thought he was.
With Romney positioning himself as the anti-McCain, and needling the Straight Talk Express in the endorsement battles, Team Romney is provoking Team McCain into all-out war.
If the simmering hostility between the Romney and McCain camps are this bad now, wait until early 2008, when voters will be sick of it. And as in every primary, an unconventional candidate will rise while a conventional candidate falls. Both McCain and Romney are positioning themselves as conventional candidates, and they're getting into a distracting two-way skirmish in a multi-candidate field, always a dangerous thing.
I can picture the ads now: "Romney attacks McCain. McCain attacks Romney. And then there's Rudy." There may be a method to the madness to staying above the fray after all.
R4'08er Republius put it very well the other day:
Such a populist strategy, in conjunction with entering the fray later than McCain and Romney, may also set up the two best organized GOP candidates to attack each other, as we saw glimpses of in the recent detainee legislation debate, in a way that significantly injures both and paves the way for others to come to the forefront from the rear. This would be a perfect set up for Giuliani and Gingrich, much as how in 2004 Congressman Gephardt and Governor Dean destroyed each other in Iowa and allowed John Kerry to thus win those caucuses from behind and establish unbeatable momentum after following that up with a win in his backyard at the New Hampshire primary.
And McCainiac Liz Mair, from the moderate blog GOPProgress also sees a ray of light for Rudy in the McCain-Romney battle:
I'm not so sure about that. Assuming Giuliani does indeed get into the race, my thinking is this: Iowa could well go to him, New Hampshire will probably go to McCain, Alabama will be a toss-up between McCain, Romney and perhaps even a Huckabee or Brownback-style candidate, while South Carolina I do not see going for McCain, and it could well go to Romney (I await a torrent of criticism and reminders of recent McCain hires in the state-- however, I would remind readers just how hated McCain was in SC after 2000, and that elephants never forget). Michigan will be a bloody fight between McCain and Romney, and my instinct is that it will be close, but could well go to Romney-- or Giuliani, if McCain and Romney spend the next year beating each other up there, with the effect that everyone is sick of them, and votes for the guy who stayed out of the fighting and actually talked about what he was prepared to lead on.
If all that happens, states like Washington start to matter. If Giuliani did manage to sneak in a crafty victory in another one or two states (e.g., Michigan), by virtue of McCain and Romney hacking each other to bits, a Giuliani victory in somewhere like Washington could be very key to sealing the deal for him.
I used to think it was important for Rudy to snatch the establishment mantle from McCain relatively early on. Now I'm not so sure. With McCain and Romney effectively splitting the establishment in half, there may be no establishment mantle to be had, and Rudy's people power becomes more formidable.
I'll be reminded of the fact that the GOP normally nominates establishment candidates. But here's the difference. Rudy isn't a scrappy challenger starting at 2%. He starts at 30% of the vote. He's starting to hold down double digit leads in big states. The longer this goes on, the clearer it becomes that McCain-Romney is being fought out in an alternate universe, while in the real world Giuliani is far and away the Republican frontrunner. Nominating Rudy would be perfectly consistent with the Republican tradition of choosing frontrunners.