With his exploratory committee now prospecting for 2008, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani leads the pack of GOP White House hopefuls. His standing atop numerous polls remains unchallenged. Also, his recent endorsement by some former critics suggests that social conservatives who explore his record might embrace him as president of the United States.
Surveys consistently demonstrate that Giuliani, not Arizona Senator John McCain, is this race’s frontrunner. It’s not even close.
In a nationwide Rasmussen Reports survey of 1,050 Republicans and 203 GOP-leaning independents, 24 percent backed Giuliani while 18 percent chose Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. McCain, at 17 percent, lags behind Rice, a declared non-candidate.
“If we assume Rice is not running and allocate her votes,” says pollster Scott Rasmussen, “Giuliani would top McCain 32 percent to 22 percent in the November 4 – 7 study.”
Among likely Republican voters polled in Michigan, McCain beat Giuliani 33 percent to 25. Rudy romped elsewhere in Strategic Vision’s November 6 survey. Giuliani outran McCain by nine points in Georgia (33 percent to 24); 19 in Florida (46 percent to 27) and Washington State (42 percent to 23); 22 in New Jersey (47 percent to 25); and 23 points in Pennsylvania (47 percent to 24). Governor Mitt Romney (R., Mass.) scored, at best, a distant third in these states.
A Clemson University poll of South Carolina Republicans and GOP-leaners revealed Giuliani’s enormous 68 percent net-favorable rating (78 percent favorable minus 10 percent unfavorable). McCain’s equivalent figure was just 42 percent (65 favorable, less 23 percent unfavorable).
These figures don’t surprise Rasmussen.
“Giuliani has the highest net-favorable ratings of any candidate on whom we’ve been polling,” he tells me. “Giuliani’s higher than McCain and higher than Hillary Clinton. He’s even higher than Bill Clinton.”
Some argue that Giuliani’s prominence in this and other polls merely reflects his high name ID. But this notion shatters beside McCain and both Clintons — three household names.
Despite all this, Giuliani had limited impact on Election Day. Among Senate candidates Giuliani assisted, 32 percent won, the New York Post reports, as did 38 percent of his House endorsees. While these are not huge numbers, few Republicans enjoyed huge numbers November 7.
Still, GOP voters should appreciate Giuliani’s tireless campaigning. At rallies, press conferences, and both individual and party fundraisers, he stumped with Republicans in 25 states this year and, The New York Daily News reports, donated $1.2 million to 55 candidates. Except for November 1, Giuliani was on the hustings daily from October 30 through November 7 and did 30 events for state-legislative, gubernatorial, and congressional nominees.
Giuliani’s message was GOP meat and potatoes.
“Republicans are united by our belief in going on offense to win the war on terror,” he wrote in a November 5 Real Clear Politics column. “Republicans stand for lower taxes; Democrats stand for higher taxes — it’s as simple as that,” he added. “The successful appointments of Justices Roberts and Alito are signs of promises kept,” Giuliani observed. “They are principled individuals who can be trusted to defend the original intent of the Constitution rather than trying to legislate their own political beliefs from the bench.” And, as Giuliani concluded, “the issues that unite us as Republicans are the same issues that unite the vast majority of Americans: a commitment to winning the war on terror; a core belief in fiscal conservatism; and a faith in individual freedom. Advancing these principles, while staying on offense, can help keep the GOP a strong majority party.”
Alas, most incumbents and challengers Giuliani supported drowned in the Democratic tsunami. But other Republicans he championed swam to safety, such as South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and Arizona senator Jon Kyl.
SayNoToRudy.Org’s online retreat also impresses. As the Ohio-based website’s self-described, social-conservative organizers stated November 5: “We sought to do everything legally possible to prevent [Giuliani] from becoming the Republican presidential nominee…Unexpectedly, as we began to see more and more of who Mr. Giuliani really is…we found that Mr. Giuliani is truly a committed Republican and an accomplished conservative on many issues…Therefore, the creators of this organization, with much humility and apology, beyond all probability, hereby announce that we are willing to endorse Mr. Giuliani for the Presidency in 2008.”
Cincinnati prosecutor Steve Giudicci says by phone that he launched SayNoToRudy.Org late last summer, along with a few dozen fellow grassroots conservative activists, mainly in Ohio.
“I am about as socially conservative as you can get — on everything from abortion, to gun rights, to smaller government, and less taxes. You name it,” he says. The website offered T-shirts, refrigerator magnets, wall clocks, boxer shorts, and other items with a logo featuring “Giuliani ‘08” and a circle and red line running through it. “Nominate a REAL Conservative,” the merchandise demanded.
But the more Giudicci and his colleagues learned about Giuliani, the more they realized they had misunderestimated him.
“We were researching Mr. Giuliani and some of his speeches and writings,” Giudicci says. “The turning point was when we read a book by Fred Siegel called The Prince of the City. That’s when we started to realize there was more to Mr. Giuliani than we initially anticipated. We felt he was a really accomplished conservative and committed Republican. It raised our level of respect for him, and opened our eyes.”
Giudicci saw Giuliani speak at a New Hampshire campaign stop on November 3 and was sold. The former Rudy foe is now a Rudy fan who hopes to swing more grassroots activists his way.
“If a President Giuliani meant the same thing as Mayor Giuliani — namely innovative and competent leadership, less government, lower taxes, a strict-constructionist judiciary, and bad guys brought to justice — then I’m all for it.”
Despite widespread misinformation about how “liberal” Giuliani is, this group’s 180-degree reversal shows what can happen when conservatives actually scrutinize Giuliani’s entire performance. Giuliani chopped overall crime 57 percent, slashed homicide 65 percent, graduated 649,895 New Yorkers (58.4 percent of relief recipients) from welfare to work, curbed or abolished 23 taxes, sliced the tax burden by $8 billion or 18.9 percent of personal income, halted racial and gender quotas in contracting, delivered 25,637 children from foster care to adoption, privatized some 23,000 apartments from bureaucratic control to individual and family ownership, and financed charter schools while fighting for vouchers. Some liberal.
Yes, America’s Mayor must comfort GOP primary voters on abortion, gays, and guns. He might do this by advocating parental consent for minors who have abortions, and opposing partial-birth abortion and subsidized embryonic-stem-cell research. (Can’t drug companies fund this — or, better yet, adult-stem-cell research?) He could outline his longtime opposition to gay marriage and promise to nominate constitutionalist judges who respect the Second Amendment. If Rudy Giuliani did this, his Reaganesque approach to nearly every other issue — plus his tough leadership, counterterrorism credentials, and communications prowess — could make him irresistible in 2008.
– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution.