The End of 9/11 Politics?
Ben Smith and David Paul Kuhn argue that Rudy Giuliani’s poor showing in this campaign “seems also to mark the beginning of the end of a period in Republican politics that began on Sept. 11, 2001.”
“There’s a paradox for Rudy,” said former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who was a member of the 9/11 Commission. “One of the things he did very well on 9/11 was say, ‘We’ve got to get back to normal.’ And that’s what’s happened. We’ve gotten back to normal.”
“They never made the pivot from success as a leader after 9/11 in New York to the ability to make success as a leader in federal or national government,” said Matt Dowd, the chief strategist for George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign. “They over relied on 9/11. There was no reason to talk about that. It was baked into his DNA. What they had to do was to make the transition from why what he did in the aftermath of 9/11 why that would make him a great leader at the time of any situation.”
Instead, Giuliani managed to do something that would have been unthinkable a few years earlier: He turned 9/11 into a punch line. The late-night television riffs bubbled into prime time during a Democratic debate in October, when Sen. Joe Biden dismissed the former mayor scornfully. “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence: a noun, a verb and 9/11,” Biden said.
That remains the best line of the campaign to date.
But Dowd is right: It’s not so much that 9/11 has faded from the national consciousness — though it has — but that Giuliani thought hammering audiences over the head with his leadership in the ensuing days was enough.
Ed Morrissey notes that things other than “9/11” factored into Giuliani’s implosion, notably the Bernard Kerik scandal and “a poor decision to stop competing in the early states and allow the media to focus so much on his rivals.” True. Still, Giuliani didn’t do enough to sell himself; much like Fred Thompson, he acted as if simply presenting himself as willing to take the job were enough.
Successful campaigns are generally prospective, not retrospective. History serves as a backdrop of potential to deliver but it’s not enough. It’s all fine and well to tell people what you’ve done in the past but you’ve got to sell them on what you’ll do in the future to win.