Not Waiting For The Nomination,
Giuliani Makes All The World His Stage
Rudy Giuliani has adopted a creative strategy for his presidential campaign. By acting like a president, he hopes to turn himself into the presumptive Republican nominee. His rivals have other ideas but so far lack the will to stop him.
For the past two weeks, Giuliani has been waging what amounts to a general election campaign, meeting with foreign dignitaries while smacking around the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, as well as the most prominent symbol of the Democratic left, MoveOn.org.
In London this week, he chatted with former prime minister Tony Blair and posed for smiling photos with Blair's successor, Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He also paid a courtesy call on another former prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who remains an iconic figure to American conservatives, and received an award in her name from the Iron Lady at a glittery dinner.
His foreign policy pronouncements were certainly Thatcheresque. He rattled sabers over Iran, brandishing the use of force as a possible means of preventing the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons. "With the absolute assurance that if they get to the point that they are going to become a nuclear power, we will prevent that or set them back five or 10 years," he said. "That is not said as a threat. That should be said as a promise."
At times, Giuliani acted almost if he were the resolute world leader shoring up a potentially wobbly ally, as Thatcher felt she had to do with George H.W. Bush after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. After meeting with Brown, Giuliani said he was "very, very heartened by how seriously" the new prime minister sees the Iranian threat. Goodness.
A Republican strategist who is not part of the former mayor's circle of supporters marveled at the images beaming back from Giuliani's trip. What they conveyed to GOP voters, he said, was the first image of "the post-Bush era with another Republican standing on the world stage."
In the absence of an argument against his candidacy by his rivals, that could turn Giuliani into the dominant figure in the race. "Time is getting very short for the Romney and Thompson campaigns," the strategist said.
Back home, Giuliani has relished the combat with Clinton, MoveOn and the New York Times -- all three entities Republicans love to hate. He bought a newspaper ad in the Times to counter MoveOn's ad describing Gen. David H. Petraeus as "General Betray Us." He taunted Clinton to denounce the group and attacked Clinton for her questioning of Petraeus during his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.
When MoveOn then pounced on Giuliani, the former mayor said, in essence, bring it on. "Frankly, I wish MoveOn.org would do several more commercials attacking because if they do it could get me nominated," he told CNN's John King while in London.
All of this comes at a time when Giuliani has seen his once-handsome lead in the national polls erode substantially. The entry of Fred Thompson into the race not only has cut into Giuliani's lead nationally, but also threatens the former mayor's goal of countering Mitt Romney's strength in Iowa and New Hampshire with a southern firewall in South Carolina and Florida.
What better way to shore up sagging support among Republicans than attacking Clinton? Nothing unites the GOP base more quickly that a fight against the Clintons, and Giuliani has been more aggressive than any of the other Republican candidates in taking her on. If Republican voters are worried about finding a candidate capable of defeating Clinton in a general election, Giuliani wants them to believe he's their best choice.
And what better way to avoid focus on social issue positions and personal peccadilloes than by talking tough on terrorism and national security? Giuliani's campaign long has bet that most Republican voters are more concerned about the threat of terrorism than about the number of abortions performed each year. Private polling data of GOP activists in some of the early states bears this out, according to Republican strategists.
How long Giuliani can avoid a real debate with his rivals partly depends on them. Romney has picked a fight with him in the past month over immigration but has not sustained the criticism. Focus on abortion caused Giuliani to stumble earlier in the year but his rivals have not done much with that issue recently.
On Friday Giuliani will appear before the National Rifle Association, a group he once attacked when he supported gun control measures like the assault weapons ban, but which he now will be courting as an advocate of states rights and the Second Amendment. How much will his opponents allow him to make that pivot?
There are some Republican strategists who argue that Giuliani's lower poll numbers reflect growing awareness among conservatives of his positions on social issues like abortion and gay rights. They believe it is a matter of time before they become his undoing -- but strategists have said that from the time he entered the race.
Giuliani's goal, as the past two weeks have demonstrated, is to roll over those potentially significant obstacles by defining the Republican race on terms most favorable to him, and through force of personality dominating the agenda heading into the primaries. If he can turn the race into a referendum on leadership, national security and taxes, his chances improve significantly over a contest framed around cultural values, personal life and temperament.
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