The Rudy Glow: Can It Last?
Lately I've spent some time mulling over one of the central pillars of Rudy-skepticism, which is that once Rudy assumes the mantle of candidate, he'll relinquish national hero status and become just another pol, his positions will be closely scrutinized, and his support will melt away. Let's take a closer look at this, shall we?
If you buy into this particular theory, then it's a wonder that any politician is able to hold on to their early support, much less win after becoming a declared candidate. Every candidate in every race is better known on Election Day than they were the day they announced. And yet, miracle of miracles, most of them don't see any significant erosion in their support, and some actually manage to build on it.
Right now, all of the Big Three -- Mayor Giuliani, Senator McCain, and Governor Romney -- are being treated with kid gloves. The nasty attacks they face today are nothing compared to what's coming. (Romney certainly got a preview this week.) And yet, in all likelihood, one of them will still win the nomination.
The focus is on Rudy because he is an unconventional candidate with that 9/11 glow. Will his unfavorables go up during the course of the campaign? For sure -- just like Romney's, McCain's, Brownback's, Thompson's, Huckabee's, and Hunter's will go up. Supporters of others will find reasons not to like Hizzoner, and vice versa.
But is it true that a candidate with Rudy's background is particularly vulnerable to a precipitous drop that has befallen other celebrity candidates? No -- quite the opposite.
Why do people like Rudy Giuliani? Because he handled one of the worst crises America has ever faced with poise and heroic resolve.
Is it relevant to what kind of President he would be? Yes.
Is it consistent with his record before 9/11? Yes. The toughness we saw on 9/11 were put to work in the 8 years before it cutting crime and welfare by leaps and bounds.
Now, compare Rudy to the other "celebrity" candidate out there right now, Barack Obama. Why does he have that "glow" about him? The pretty face. The deep baritone. The inspiring family story.
Is this relevant to what kind of President he would be? No.
Is this consistent with his past record? What record? From Illinois State Senate to President in four years? Somehow, I don't think so.
The mistake political analysts make with Rudy is to lump him with pretty-boy candidates like Barack Obama and John Edwards, or with novice candidates like Wesley Clark, Colin Powell, or Ross Perot. Unlike Obama and Edwards, the reasons people like Rudy are substantive and consistent with his overall record. Unlike Clark, Powell, et al., Rudy has experience with winning elections and dealing with a tough press corps.
Unlike the typical mile-wide, inch-deep celebrity candidates of the past, the issues that will be discussed on the campaign trail in the next 15 months will only serve to remind people of Rudy's post-9/11 leadership, whether it's Iraq, the broader war on terror, or crisis-management post-Katrina. It's not as though 9/11 was some fluke, not to be replicated again. It's still very much on the mind of Americans, particularly Republicans.
Rudy also has the experience to weather the worst campaign storms. He ran three tough elections in one of the toughest political environments in America, winning two. He also dealt with an extremely hostile New York City press corps (expect them to rear their ugly heads again). Critics like to point out that Rudy's approval rating was at 40% pre-9/11. But most leaders, even great ones, face low approval ratings towards the end of their tenure. The current White House would probably kill for those numbers. September 11th did not so much bring out a previously unknown face of America's Mayor as it did bring back the decisive, crime-fighting Rudy of the early '90s -- the Real Rudy.
And riffing off DaveG, not all candidates with a "glow" crash and burn. Reagan had the "glow" post-1976 Convention. He won -- perhaps because the Reagan "glow" was not something contrived or abnormal, but shone the light on the Real Reagan.