In his roughly six months as the official Republican front-runner, Rudy Giuliani has had to endure attacks on his abortion stance, exposés on his wife and marital history, the putative candidacy of Fred Thompson, and even criticism of his role during 9/11 — the mainstay of his candidacy — by some of New York’s bravest (a/k/a the FDNY).
But the biggest threat to Giuliani’s campaign can be summed up in two words: Michael Bloomberg.
No one knows if Bloomberg, the current New York City mayor — until recently a Republican — will run for president as an Independent. And if he does, no one knows how he’ll do (except to say that he won’t win, because third-party candidates never do) or how he’ll affect the race. But one thing is clear: when Bloomberg so much as thinks about running and the press picks up on it, Giuliani’s standing drops like a stone.
It’s not hard to see why. It’s not bigoted to suggest that if, say, Colin Powell started toying with a presidential run as a Republican, it would be detrimental to Barack Obama’s chances to win even the Democratic nomination, since it would destroy Obama’s uniqueness as a candidate. The same goes for Hillary Clinton (at least it would, if there were another prominent liberal woman around to think about entering the race) or for Tennessean Fred Thompson if, say, former US Senator Bill Frist, also from Tennessee, started making presidential noises.
It’s hard enough to run for the presidency on your record as New York City mayor — no one has ever made the jump from East End to Pennsylvania Avenue. But it’s nearly impossible if your successor is out there talking about how most of your accomplishments are really his — especially if that successor can back up his claim with a couple hundred million dollars in ad expenditures.
Take for example 1976, when Jimmy Carter swept through the early primaries as “the outsider” that voters were seeking after the trauma of Watergate. Then, newly elected California governor Jerry Brown announced and, immediately, he positioned himself as a more “acceptable” outsider. Indeed, he pushed Carter almost to the brink, though the Georgia governor still had enough delegates to claim the nomination. Bloomberg could be Giuliani’s Jerry Brown.
Even if Giuliani does emerge with the GOP presidential nomination and Bloomberg decides not to run as an Independent, Giuliani’s problems will hardly end. First, in the general election, the former New York City mayor would likely face an Independent candidacy from a right-wing GOP splinter group, contesting his views on abortion. Even a splinter candidate who got one or two percent of the vote in several close states could throw the election to the Democrats, in the same way that Ralph Nader threw it to the GOP in 2000.
But that’s not all. If Obama were to win the nomination and face Giuliani, he could surprise the experts and pick Bloomberg as his vice-presidential nominee. (Clinton is essentially forbidden from doing so because she would have to forfeit New York’s 31 electoral votes. The Constitution precludes a state voting for a ticket in which both candidates reside in that state.) An Obama-Bloomberg ticket wouldn’t only reinforce Obama as a candidate with a new direction and give him access to Bloomberg’s millions. It would give him a campaigner who would diminish Giuliani’s stature every day he was on the trail. Vice-presidential nominees have been selected with political qualifications a lot less impressive than that.