Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fear Not

The Wall Street Journal seeks to explain Rudolph Giuliani's persistent lead in the polls:

For now, Mr. Giuliani's ability to sustain his lead is striking, almost baffling. The idea that a party dominated by Southerners and conservatives who oppose abortion would open its arms to a thrice-married New Yorker who has backed abortion rights, gay rights and gun control is a mind-bender. The last supporter of abortion rights who made a plausible run for the party's nomination was then-California Gov. Pete Wilson in 1996, and he lasted about as long as a red-eye flight from the West Coast.

Yet here are today's numbers: A fresh Journal/NBC News poll shows Mr. Giuliani commands the support of 33% of Republicans, more than double the 16% who favor John McCain or the 15% who back Fred Thompson. Most surprisingly, he leads among self-identified "very conservative" Republicans and weekly churchgoers, and is essentially tied with Messrs. McCain and Thompson among evangelicals.

What accounts for this gravity-defying performance? For starters, it's a sign that for many Republicans an image of strength -- Mr. Giuliani's prime asset -- now trumps a candidate's position on the issues.

"It's all about leadership," says Scott Reed, a Republican strategist who ran Bob Dole's 1996 campaign but is unaffiliated this time around. "It's all about him being a tough guy who won't take c--- from anyone. Social conservatives have embraced this and have overlooked the traditional issues of life, marriage and the Second Amendment for the guy," Mr. Reed adds.

Similarly, some conservatives seem to have changed their top priority from social issues to fighting terrorism. They may well view Islamic extremists as a bigger threat than abortionists to the future of Judeo-Christian society, and nobody looks like a better foe of extremists than the former New York mayor who stood strong amid the rubble of 9/11.

Mr. Giuliani's rise also appears to reflect a streak of sheer practicality among Republicans. He could bring whole new states (think New Jersey) into play for the party. Much as Bill Clinton persuaded liberals to swallow their misgivings about him in 1992 in order to win, Mr. Giuliani is doing the same with conservatives now.

I believe that The Street is largely missing the point. While there are a small number of Giuliani true believers the majority of his support is coming from the "anybody but Hillary" crowd. People remember the Senate race that didn't happen between Clinton and Giuliani. The one which even partisan Democrats expected Giuliani to win (until he found out he had prostate cancer and had a nervous breakdown).

Fear on the part of Republicans has caused the Clinton machine to appear almost supernatural in their eyes. The fact that Giuliani was once favored to beat her has caused him to reach a similar level of supernatural ability in many Republican eyes. Like the deeply flawed Hercules who murdered his family in a drunken rage but also defeated the Hydra the deeply flawed Giuliani is seen by too many timid Republicans as the only force on earth who can prevent Satan incarnate from ascending the throne in DC and bringing down the reign of the Antichrist.

That the real life Mrs. Bill Clinton is, in a political sense, as dumb as a doorknob and unable to learn. That half the people in the country have already said that they have reached a settled conclusion that they will never vote for her. That she has already proven herself incapable of dealing with even the slightest resistance in any even moderately graceful way. That the wheels have already started to come off her campaign and Democrats are already beginning to think of her as the new Howard Dean is something that the scared rabbit wing of the GOP simply cannot get their minds wrapped around.

To them Hillary Clinton has been the spider in the web masterminding every Republican defeat for the past 15 years. Never mind that her ineptitude handed the Republicans control of both the House and Senate in 1994 and that the bitterness of her legacy prevented Al Gore, who should have had an easy win, from being elected president in 2000. No, to the cowering wing of the GOP she takes the form of a near-omnipotent Lovecraftian elder god descending like Dread Cthulhu from the depths of the primordial ocean of stars to rule over a trembling earth.

Sorry but I don't buy it. Hillary Clinton will be formidable because she will be backed by the Democrat Party machine and supported by the legions of those who have been enslaved by the soul-destroying chains of dependence upon one form of the dole or another. But she has massive negatives to overcome and she simple lacks the personality or the mindset to overcome them.

She also has another massive liability. Bill Clinton. Although most would think of him as a great asset, an up till now he mostly has been, he will not continue to be. Bill Clinton's driving characteristic is his ego which requires him to be "the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral and the baby at every christening" (as Teddy Roosevelt's daughter once observed about him).

He is simply not going to be able to take a backseat for very much longer. And not only must he grab as much attention as he can he must also make it crystal clear that he is still the star and that everyone and everything, especially Hillary, orbits around him. What will eventually happen is open warfare between Bill Clinton and his wife's campaign.

Up against this all the Republicans need to do is run a genuine conservative.