VIDEO: Giuliani's latest from YouTube's "YouChoose '08" channel
With all the press coverage of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and, well, Hillary Clinton, you’d think we have a one-party political system heading into next fall’s presidential election. As the astute columnist David Shribman reminded us recently, however, the Republicans are still planning to nominate a candidate in 2008, and given the historical trends of presidential politics, that GOP nominee has a very good chance of being the next president.
Three points are worth noting as we set the odds for the Republicans. First, in the modern era, the GOP has always nominated the candidate who is leading the polls a year before the first primary vote is cast. This is not a party that likes to give its nomination to renegades. In the past two months or so, Rudy Giuliani has opened up a lead among Republican hopefuls, indicating for now that those who say he is too liberal to win the GOP nomination have political precedent to deal with.
Second, no matter who ends up in the field, the Republicans will be without two of their potentially stronger candidates. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger surely would have run — and done well — but he is prevented by the Constitution from seeking the presidency because of his foreign birth. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush could have been the answer to the Republican right wing’s prayers. A good little-brother, though, Jeb let his older sibling (George II, a/k/a, “The Blunderer”) take his crack at the White House first, proving why primogeniture is such a bad idea when it comes to presidential politics. The younger, wiser Bush has once again decided to sit this one out, and might now be wondering if playing the good brother then has ruined his own presidential aspirations, now and forever.
Finally, despite most press coverage, it’s worth remembering that the majority of Republican primary voters still think George W. Bush is doing a good job and that the Iraq War, though flawed, was a good idea. Senator Chuck Hagel may be an interesting critic of the Bush administration and a favorite of the press, but those are two negatives — not positives — in this party.
This is the first election since 1928 in which an incumbent or former president or vice-president isn’t seeking the highest office, dictating a more wide-open race than usual. But the lack of an incumbent — even if it were “Darth” Cheney — to defend the status quo has also meant that the campaign debate and news coverage have been heavily tilted against President Bush. Were Cheney or a similar administration supporter in the race, it’s likely that Bush’s approval ratings would be a bit higher.
Here, then, are the opening odds.
Rudy Giuliani. Odds for nomination: Even.
Strengths: national hero after 9/11. Known as the mayor who cleaned up New York by fighting “the liberal establishment.” Innovative on the issues.
Weaknesses: has never run for even statewide office — may be a bit provincial. Has taken positions on issues such as gun control that are an anathema to the right. Can be abrasive and confrontational — a kind of New York version of Margaret Thatcher, according to some writers. Recent messy divorce won’t help either.
Bottom line: with McCain fading a bit, Giuliani leads the polls. So far, his positions on the issues haven’t slowed him down at all. Because he would be strong in many places Democrats traditionally carry (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania), Giuliani would be the strongest GOP nominee in a general election. Right now, one has to call him the current favorite to be the next president.