10 December 2010

Reflections on Rudy

Daniel Larison contemplates a Gary Johnson primary bid in 2012 and assesses whether an apt comparison is Rudy Guiliani in 2008. Larison notes that both men are pro-choice, which in any Republican primary, is a tough road to travel. More critically, here's what doomed Rudy:

First, Guiliani built his entire candidacy around the fact that he happened to be the Mayor of New York City during a catastrophic terrorist attack. While the country appreciates Rudy's leadership, that didn't automatically qualify him to be president. Second, he wasted his frontrunner status by ignoring the first three primaries and instead focusing all his energy in Florida. McCain's victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, plus Huckabee's victory in Iowa and near-miss in South Carolina, swung many millions of Republicans toward one of those two candidates. Each of McCain and Huckabee made a compelling case for his presidency to either one side of the party or the other. Third, McCain's voting record and quixotic blend of economic conservatism and -- at the time -- western libertarianism -- captured the vast majority of Republican moderates. Even when his campaign was nearly bankrupt, McCain hit the pavement and the town hall circuit making the case for his candidacy. Rudy stayed home, and those (like me) who wanted a more moderate Republican nominee ended up falling in line behind McCain. Fourth, it's tough to build one's candidacy around being tough on terror when, again, the primary opponent is John McCain.

So what can Johnson learn from Rudy's mistakes? First, start campaigning NOW. It's a fool's errand to pin one's hopes on a primary further down the line and allow opponents to gain press coverage, supporters and money. Johnson needs to shoot for a top-four finish in Iowa and then angle for a top-two finish in New Hampshire. Second, don't become a caricature. Joe Biden noted that every sentence Rudy utters includes "a noun, a verb and 9/11." Guiliani, the only real social liberal in the Republican field, apparently believed he had to tack hard to the right on everything else, and he came off as inauthentic. In 2012, I suspect a third way may be more popular than it was in 2008. Third, explain to GOP voters that while you might be personally pro-choice, your view of constitutional jurisprudence is the same, so there would be no difference in the judges you'd appoint. Fourth, and most critically, begin to line up endorsements from the likes of Ron and Rand Paul. Ron, in particular, has suggested he won't run if his friend Johnson does in 2012.

Will Gary Johnson be the Republican nominee in 2012? Probably not. But his candidacy would be a blast to watch, and I think he would make a terrific president.

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