Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Et tu Rudy?

The current issue of the New Yorker includes an amusing story about the "flexibility" of Mitt Romney's political views. As an unsuccessful candidate for Senator from Massachusetts, Romney tried to position himself to the left of Ted Kennedy, and as Massachusetts Governor he was a liberal Republican. Now that he's running for the Republican nomination for President, Romney contends he is from the "Republican wing of the Republican Party," positioning himself as the only true conservative among the front-runners. Ryan Lizza, author of the New Yorker article, is hardly the first person to point out Romney's evident opportunism, but Lizza makes the interesting observation that Romney's willingness to engage in rebranding reflects his background in management consulting. Changing course on a dime to satisfy consumer demand is a virtue for a company. Lizza questions whether the same is true in politics.

Meanwhile, until now, Rudy Giuliani's strategy for dealing with basically the same issue has been exactly the opposite. Like Romney, Giuliani was the Chief Executive of a liberal polity and, to get elected, had to espouse liberal views on some make-or-break issues, like abortion and gay rights. Betting that Republican primary voters would value sincerity over purity, Giuliani has run a campaign in which he says to social conservatives that they should support him because of his tough foreign policy views and his record on issues such as crime fighting, and not be bothered by his socially liberal views, especially since the latter would not guide him on the one issue where they can make the most difference in a President, judicial appointments. It's too early to say which strategy has worked better. Giuliani leads in national polls but Romney is doing well in early primary states.

The virtue of the Giuliani strategy is that it doesn't look like a strategy at all. As the saying goes, "Sincerity: If you can fake it, you've got it made." (Variations of this line have been attributed to numerous pundits. Columbia World of Quotations credits NPR newsman Daniel Schorr.) Now I'm not saying that Giuliani necessarily is faking it. I'm just saying that whether or not he stands by his convictions about abortion and gay rights, there is a strategic advantage in appearing to do so, even with Republican primary voters who do not share these convictions.

And that makes Giuliani's latest pronouncement all the more mystifying. As reported in the NY tabloids, campaigning in New Hampshire, Giuliani endorsed---wait for it---the Boston Red Sox! Hoping to fend off charges of political opportunism, Giuliani claimed that he was a fan of the American League. Yet Yankees fans are supposed to root for anybody playing against the Red Sox. Indeed, if the Red Sox were playing the Iranian Revolutionary Guard intramural champion team, I would think a Yankees fan of Giuiliani's supposed rabidness would be obligated to cheer for the Iranians. Count this one a victory for Romney (who will have a hard time taking credit for it as a Bostonian because he seems intent on hiding the fact that he has ever heard of Massachusetts). Go Rockies!

10 comments:

Sobek said...

I don't mind the re-branding, so long as a candidate can convince me he will follow through on the re-branding. I would rather have a guy vote my way because that's what he promised to do than vote against me because of his convictions.

That doesn't mean a politician's record is unimportant. Indeed, it may be the best way to predict his future actions. But the future is my primary concern, not the past.

All that said, I'd vote for Giuliani regardless of his feelings for the Sox, but GO ROCKIES!!!

egarber said...

I'm curious about the revolt threat among those on the evangelical right under a scenario where Rudy becomes the party nominee. Personally, I think the threat to bolt in favor of a third party is mostly a bluff.

In the end, Rudy can balance himself on the tightrope I think, provided that the Christian right believes he'll appoint the right kind of judges.

Still, I'm not so sure I believe he will. It'll be interesting to see if he speaks the "code" (Dred again, etc.) for overturning Roe during the rest of the campaign.

Sobek said...

"I'm curious about the revolt threat among those on the evangelical right under a scenario where Rudy becomes the party nominee."

I see a lot of that on the conservative blogs I frequent. Actually, I've seen that threat about every Republican front-runner except Thompson (his critics say he's never done anything impressive, but don't promise not to vote for him).

I suspect it's mostly bluster. Any candidate will lost votes from die-hards who won't compromise, but no candidate will lose the vote of everyone who makes that claim (for example, I don't believe the stat that 50% of Americans would never vote for Hillary for a second). The vast majority of people with enough energy to get out and vote will also decide that politician X may be a goober, but at least s/he's my goober.

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