Watch What Rudy Does, Not Whom He Hires

122506 article wiseguys Watch What Rudy Does,  Not Whom He HiresThe news that Rudy Giuliani has signed a fast-rising and highly regarded Republican operative to head his Presidential exploratory committee was taken by the D.C. crowd as conclusive proof that the former Mayor is really going to run for President.

Which it probably is. Unless he doesn’t.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine that Michael DuHaime—the 33-year-old Ken Mehlman lieutenant who was toiling in the thankless world of New Jersey Republican politics just a few years ago—would have spurned what undoubtedly were multiple lucrative private-sector opportunities for Mr. Giuliani’s offer of employment were he not reasonably persuaded that his new boss is ready to apply for part-time residency in Des Moines.

But last week, we were also reminded—again—of another early lesson of the ’08 race: Appearances can be deceiving.

That was certainly the case with Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, a Democratic political legacy who was marked as a future Presidential prospect around the time he applied for his driver’s license. Mr. Bayh had taken even more definitive steps than Mr. Giuliani, assembling a team of seasoned consultants and field operatives and flatly telling elite national fund-raisers that he was in the race.

Then, over the weekend, Mr. Bayh abruptly dropped out, explaining that the odds were too long—a reality that he’d spent the previous months denying.

And he isn’t this nascent campaign season’s only flirt. Mark Warner, the Democratic former Virginia governor, lined up an even more impressive roster of political and financial talent, only to pull the rug out from under them all in October.

So while Mr. Giuliani’s newest hire—which comes on the heels of his decision to form an exploratory committee—looks suspiciously like the penultimate step toward a formal declaration of candidacy, it might just be the prelude to leaving Mr. DuHaime and others in the lurch.

In fairness, there aren’t many pundits who thought Mr. Giuliani would wade as deeply into the Presidential waters as he has. But their skepticism over his G.O.P. primary prospects remains well-placed: The social conservatism of his party’s core voters only seems to be hardening, leaving little wiggle room for a social-issues apostate like Mr. Giuliani.

That early national polls show him atop the Republican field—an NBC survey last week gave the former Mayor a five-point edge over John McCain—is, for now, an insignificant aberration, testimony to the power of celebrity in an undefined field. After all, Gary Hart was the Democratic front-runner when he jumped into the 1988 race for the second time. A few weeks later, he snagged less than 1 percent in Iowa, and now no one even remembers that he ran.

If Mr. Giuliani does seek the G.O.P. nod, his most likely role still seems that of a spoiler, siphoning off moderate and independent voters (particularly in New Hampshire) from Mr. McCain, who has tacked to the right in an effort to secure establishment G.O.P. backing. It is as hard as ever to imagine Mr. Giuliani actually winning support from the Christian conservatives who predominate in the Iowa caucuses and in South Carolina’s primary.

None of this is to suggest that Mr. Giuliani is doing all of this out of vanity or even plain boredom. Evidently, he believes he can win, and genuinely liked what he saw and heard as he traveled the grassroots G.O.P. circuit this year.

Indeed, most Republicans—even social conservatives—want “America’s Mayor” on their team. Campaigning for some of the right-most voices in his party this year was a gesture of friendship by Mr. Giuliani to the G.O.P. base, sort of like the cool kid in high school taking a seat at a lunch table full of outcasts and saying, “I’m a lot like you.” Whether this will win him actual votes is an open question, but it’s quite possible that his intra-party diplomacy figures to spare Mr. Giuliani the hostile—and fatal—right-wing revolt that Mr. McCain faced when he ran as a maverick in 2000.

Still, neither Mr. Giuliani’s ’06 tour, the formation of the exploratory committee, nor the hiring of Mr. DuHaime constitutes an irrevocable signal of Presidential intent—nothing short of an official announcement would be.

Here’s a better test.

Until now, Mr. Giuliani has professed nothing but respect and admiration for Mr. McCain, and the Arizonan has reciprocated, with convincing enough sincerity. But there’s not room at the top of the polls for both of them—assuming they’re serious about running.

When Mr. Giuliani starts taking swipes at Mr. McCain—or vice versa—then we’ll know the race is on.