Giuliani on Clinton and the GOP's 'Very Strong Record of Success'
Rudy Giuliani has a fight on his hands to win the Republican presidential nomination, but he already has the general election well scoped out.
I talked with the former New York mayor about this aboard his campaign bus on Saturday afternoon as he was rolling from Winnisquam to Concord. He had just finished purchasing a fancy Christmas wreath at a nursery and seemed in a relaxed, if not exactly laid back, mood as we headed south.
Much of our time was spent talking about the nomination battle and his differences with Mitt Romney and his views about the Middle East. But at one point I mentioned something Barack Obama had said recently, which is that he believes the Republicans will be coming after the Democratic nominee on two issues in 2008 -- terrorism and immigration -- and that Democrats had better be ready.
Giuliani laughed. "He's missing a few others," he said. "I don't think they realize how far down the road they've gone toward much more government-controlled medicine and I don't think they realize how far down the road they went on tax increases, with [New York Rep.] Charlie Rangel's plan. Obama, Edwards and Hillary have bought into 20 to 30 percent tax increases. Those would be historically high tax increases."
Giuliani's views about the Democrats and terrorism are well known. At his most provocative, he's said a Democratic president will put the country on defense, not offense, against Islamic extremists and that will mean, over time, a greater loss of life than if the country stays on offense. He restated that view -- in less provocative terms -- Monday morning during an appearance at the Politics and Eggs breakfast series in Bedford, N.H.
On immigration, he believes the Democrats have badly mishandled the debate about whether illegal immigrants should have driver's licenses. Hillary Clinton took both sides of that debate until she finally said she opposes them. Barack Obama, at the Democratic debate in Las Vegas, meandered his way through the maze until he said he supported them. Giuliani looks at the issue and sees almost four in five New Yorkers opposed to the proposal that Gov. Eliot Spitzer abandoned and believes the Democrats are out of touch with ordinary Americans on the whole topic.
I asked Giuliani to assess the political climate for Republicans in 2008, given the low approval ratings of President Bush, the fact that the GOP as a party is less popular today than it has been in a very long time and the reality that it is very difficult for one party to win the White House three times in a row. He suggested I had missed a few things in my question.
"I think there are pros and cons for both of us," he said. "You've just stated all the pros for the Democrats. Here are the pros for us. When you look at a head to head match up, the generic Republican-Democrat thing falls away and just as often as not I'm ahead of Hillary nationally as she's ahead of me. We're always within four or five points of each other and 15 points or 20 points off the generic polling, Democrat or Republican. And I think that will become even more pronounced when it comes down to two candidates. It's not going to be about Republican and Democrat. It's going to be about Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, or whoever is sitting in those two positions."
He also said the Democratic nominee will have a real burden defending the Democratic-controlled Congress. "There is one group more unpopular than the president," he said. "It's the Democratic Congress. Nancy Pelosi. Harry Reid. They do tend to put issues out there that help a lot. So there may be just as much of a reaction against that--I think a Republican candidate will have a really good argument: you've got to elect me to protect against a Democratic Congress, if there's going to be a Democratic Congress."
But Giuliani does not assume that, if he is the GOP nominee, there will be a Democratic Congress in January 2009. "I think we could run with the possibility of winning the Congress back because I make competitive races in 50 states, or pretty close to 50 states," he said. "I think my opponents [for the GOP nomination] do not. If Romney or Thompson were nominated, they'd run a 35 state campaign -- and they should because strategically it would be a waste to try New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Illinois. So I think if I run we give ourselves the best chance to make gains in the House and Senate."
The former mayor argued that, by the time of next year's elections, Democratic voters may be as disillusioned with their congressional leaders as Republican voters were at the time of last year's midterm election. "I think their base is getting discouraged," he said. "They elect these Democrats to get out of Iraq and they're still in Iraq. They elect these Democrats to straighten out immigration. It's just exactly where it was before. They elect these Democrats to do away with earmarks. There's 26,000 earmarks...They made a lot of promises and haven't delivered on them."
Giuliani and the other Republicans have been running hard against Clinton for months. I asked him how things might be different if Obama were the Democratic nominee. He said there would be some stylistic differences but added, "On the big issues you're talking about, I don't think it would be very different. They're pretty much in the same place on terrorism. He may be a little further out there to the left of her on terrorism. I think some of the things he said about negotiating he's going to have to withdraw. The feeling of the race may be different but I bet the issues would be pretty much the same."
When I asked Giuliani about his durability -- a word former President Bill Clinton used to describe the mayor's success to date in sustaining a lead in national polls while being out of step with his party on social issues -- he said that many analysts had "oversimplified the Republican Party and oversimplified Republicans. Republicans want the best president, they want the best possible candidate. I think we have the one thing to give them that the other candidates don't have to give, which is a very strong record of success."
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