Bill Kristol — in what is, I think, his first actual blog post ever — points out that the most recent survey data indicate the differences between Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson when it comes to electability indicate a toss-up. In other words, they both lose to Hillary by small margins, but Rudy’s is a tad smaller. And the argument that Rudy is more electable has to be evaluated in light of the fact that a Rudy candidacy is more likely to spawn a third-party challenger than a Thompson candidacy.
The more-electable argument hinges on the possibility that Giuliani might be able to win blue states on Election Night that are unreachable to any other Republican — New Jersey primarily, but also Connecticut and Pennsylvania. This may be vital for Republicans, as it’s possible that Ohio is lost to the GOP next year owing to the conduct of the party in the state.
Bill is almost certainly right, though: A third-party candidacy on the Right undertaken by even a minimally serious person will, it is true, almost certainly doom any GOP chances in November 2008. I wrote about this at length in my book Can She Be Stopped?, which came out in hardcover in May 2006 (and will be available in paper in two weeks with extensive revisions!) — describing conservatives as prone to self-defeating “purification rituals.”
It now seems clear, from some inventive and fascinating research done by Walter J. Stone and Walter Rapoport in their book Three’s a Crowd, that the 1992 candidacy of Ross Perot — an amazingly empty purification ritual that, in retrospect, was not about much other than disgust with Washington — really did hand the election to Bill Clinton.
And for certain, if another such purification ritual had succeeded in 1993 — had George Marlin’s Conservative Party candidacy for the mayoralty in New York gained a sufficient amount of votes — Rudy Giuliani would not have become mayor of the Big Apple and would not have effected the astonishing changes for the better in the city’s fortunes.
The purifiers really do face a very stark reality going forward — if they pull the trigger against the GOP and the Democrats win by not much, they will bear the responsibility for the election of someone who will be worse for their issues.
Therefore, it should stand to reason at this point that conservatives fearful of a Giuliani candidacy should be rallying behind Thompson. And yet James Dobson has spoken insultingly of Fred and others don’t seem particularly excited by him either.
The conduct of Religious Right leaders has been entirely baffling. They’ve have several candidates they could have rallied around as a matter of principle — Huckabee and Brownback in particular. But they haven’t done so. It’s almost as though they’re paralyzed. Which is why I still think it’s more likely there will be a third-party challenge from an extreme immigration restrictionist.