If pragmatism prevails in the Republican primaries and caucuses next winter—a questionable proposition for a party that once dutifully lined up behind Bob Dole—then Rudy Giuliani will roll to the G.O.P. nomination.
Simply put, the former Mayor would flip to the Republican column several deep, dark blue states that the G.O.P. has barely bothered to contest in recent election, gobbling up territory that is pivotal to any Democrat’s hopes of corralling 270 electoral votes. And he could do this without ceding an inch of safe G.O.P. turf to the Democrats. Sure, they may loathe his social liberalism, but will Mississippians really hand their six electoral votes to Hillary Clinton over Rudy?
As it stands now, Republicans are in grave danger of losing the White House in 2008. There is a pattern to American politics that has prevailed, almost unblemished, since the Second World War: One party controls the Presidency for eight years, then the other party does. It was the Democrats’ turn in 1992 and 1996, the Republicans’ turn in 2000 and 2004, and—well, you see what that means for ’08.
And it’s not as if voters are inclined to buck history: Fatigue with the national G.O.P. is unusually high—and, with every passing, seemingly futile month in Iraq, growing. Against such a backdrop, a Republican Presidential nominee who appeals to the usual G.O.P. cheering sections and antagonizes the familiar Democratic constituencies is going nowhere.
To win next year, Republicans need to nominate a map-changer—a candidate who can attract support in unlikely areas and overcome the significant built-in handicaps.
Enter Rudy. Say what you will about whether he truly deserves them, but his Sept. 11 tough-guy hero credentials position him perfectly to lead election-swinging Reagan Democrats back into the Republican fold.
Consider the electoral map, which has subtly shifted in the Democrats’ favor in the last two years due to Republican bumbling on the national and state levels.
Ohio, for instance, famously put Mr. Bush over the top in 2004. Months later, though, that state’s Republican governor, Bob Taft, pleaded guilty to four criminal misdemeanors in an ethics case, precipitating the total collapse of Ohio’s G.O.P. establishment. Now, early polls show Mrs. Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards poised to turn Ohio blue in ’08.
Against Rudy’s G.O.P. rivals, the Democratic front-runners would have little trouble doing so. John McCain’s fortunes will be tied to public opinion of the war he has so tirelessly promoted. And Mitt Romney’s politics of convenience—now a conservative, he built his political career in liberal Massachusetts by telling wrenching personal stories about his commitment to keeping abortion legal—will only remind Ohioans of the double-talking governor who until recently occupied their own Statehouse.
But Rudy can run as a leader and a hero, the man who stood tall on America’s darkest day—just as the President went into hiding for a few hours. He can call himself a results man too, the mayor who made New York safe for suburbanites again. That appeal frees him from the liabilities of his party or from the kind of single-issue identification that figures to doom Mr. McCain.
And Ohio is only one example.
Look at Mr. Giuliani’s home region. He’d have a hard time, perhaps, in New York itself. But he’d be favored in New Jersey, a state filled with blue-collar, ethnic Catholics who loved him even before 9/11. At the same time, his social liberalism won’t scare off the state’s affluent, educated suburbanites like George W. Bush’s religious rhetoric has. The same is true of Connecticut, another bedroom state that has turned on the national G.O.P. as it has morphed into a party for Christian conservatives from the South.
Between them, Connecticut and New Jersey have 22 electoral votes, and neither has voted Republican since 1988. Before he’s even left his backyard, then, Rudy could produce a 44-vote swing in the electoral math, potentially decisive in itself. And that’s not even touching Pennsylvania, whose blue-collar masses have lined up with the Democrats for four straight elections. And so on.
We’ve been down this road before, of course. In 1996, Lamar Alexander, then a likable and somewhat moderate former Tennessee governor, donned a checkered shirt and told Republicans that his campaign was as simple as ABC: “Alexander Beats Clinton.” No one short of Colin Powell could have defeated Mr. Clinton that year, but surely Mr. Alexander would have fared better than the soporific Mr. Dole, who Republicans nonetheless tapped. Similarly, had the G.O.P. simply nominated Mr. McCain in 2000, it would hardly have taken a Supreme Court decision to hand the White House to the party.
Maybe, given his well-documented history as a social liberal, it’s naïve to think that Mr. Giuliani will be able to count on Republican support in 2008. But if Hillary Clinton ends up defeating Mitt Romney, the G.O.P. will have no one but itself to blame for the Clinton restoration.
Steve Kornacki works as an organizer for Unity08, a group that advocates a bipartisan Presidential ticket in 2008.