Why John McCain and Rudy Giuliani Won’t Get Elected

John Heilemann has an interesting piece in New York magazine called, “N.Y.’s Favorite Republicans – GOPers City Democrats Can Get Behind.” In it, he explains why, contrary to the early buzz, neither John McCain nor Rudy Giuliani will be elected president. Further, he argues that it’s a good thing for the GOP.

It begins with a self-deprecating McCain dismissing the fact that, “in poll after poll—from serious surveys conducted by reputable outfits to online straw votes run by wack-job Websites—McCain and Giuliani are the party’s only putative candidates with support in double digits. (Fascinatingly, the sole exception, when her name is included, is Condoleezza Rice.)”

“It’s 95 percent name I.D.,†McCain tells me. “It’s ‘I know who John McCain is, I know who Rudy Giuliani is, but I’ve never heard of Mitt Romney or Sam Brownback.’ â€

That candor and this passage help explain why people fundamentally like McCain–and yet staunch Republicans don’t trust him:

Afterward, I told McCain that the infatuation with him by countless liberals—barely a day goes by in New York without some habitual Democrat telling me he would consider voting for McCain against Clinton—struck me as hard to fathom.

McCain, without missing a beat, replied, “They don’t know me well enough.â€

We both laughed at that, but he wasn’t entirely kidding, for McCain has always been more conservative than either the left or the right wishes to admit. A recent piece in The Nation captured the point concisely: “In 2004 he earned a perfect 100 percent rating from Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and a 0 percent from NARAL. . . . He has supported school vouchers, a missile defense shield, and private accounts for Social Security. Well before 9/11 McCain advocated a new Reagan doctrine of ‘rogue-state rollback.’â€

So what accounts for the deep suspicion of McCain on the right? Certainly the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance-reform law, which conservatives saw as a violation of the First Amendment, is part of the story. And certainly his liberal positions on immigration and climate change are part of it, too. But, at bottom, the conservative wariness of McCain has less to do with his stances on particular issues than with a more fundamental sense of betrayal. “Before 2000, McCain was a pretty reliable conservative,†says David Keene, head of the American Conservative Union. “In fact, he could have run in that election as the Reaganite challenger to Bush. But instead he wanted to be the truth-telling iconoclast. He decided the media was his constituency, not conservatives, and he ran by attacking his own party. A lot of people decided then he couldn’t be trusted.â€

As to Giuliani,

Giuliani runs slightly ahead of McCain consistently. And no one doubts that Giuliani’s popularity is real and sincerely felt. Yet among political professionals there is something approaching a consensus that of the two men, he occupies the far weaker position. To start with, McCain has run a national campaign before—a considerable asset. McCain can also lay claim to the “it’s my turn†mantle of seniority in the presidential sweepstakes—another important advantage in a party of primogeniture.

Worse for Giuliani, because he and McCain have the same set of strengths—heroism, national-security cred—and appeal to the same moderate and independent base of voters, it will make it devilishly difficult for Hizzoner to portray himself as a McCain alternative. As Keene puts it, “If McCain is the problem, Rudy isn’t the solution.â€

Even if McCain weren’t present in the race, Giuliani would have his share of obstacles to surmount. Unlike McCain, who can at least lay credible claim to being conservative on many social issues, Giuliani is something close to a bona fide social liberal: pro—gay rights, pro—gun control, thrice married, etc. Can some of these issues be fudged, rendering Giuliani modestly more palatable to the red-meat-eating right? Sure. But one of them cannot.

That would be abortion. And many believe that issue will keep Giuliani on the sidelines.

Says one longtime political-media guru, “McCain shows every sign of running and Giuliani shows no sign. McCain is out on a book tour, raising money for his pac, giving money away to other Republican candidates. What’s Rudy doing? Giving speeches, making money for himself. You can’t just sit there thinking, Hey, it would be fun to run; you have to be organizing right now, putting people in place.†Adds another campaign vet, “I know people in town who are signed up to work for every potential candidate on the list—Allen, Huckabee, Brownback, even Gingrich. But I don’t know a single soul who’s working on Giuliani’s campaign.â€

Heilemann draws an interesting conclusion, though:

But even if he doesn’t [run], Giuliani, along with McCain—whether he ultimately succeeds in winning the nomination—is essential to whatever the post-Bush GOP is destined to become. Charismatic, candid, and all too human, they create the impression, however illusory, that the Republican Party actually was a big tent and might, just might, be a big tent again.

There’s something to that, to be sure. The nominating electorate of both parties are likely too ideological to produce a candidate that will end the recent string of polarizing general elections. The only way I can see a McCain or Giuliani getting the nomination is if Hillary Clinton or some other candidate runs away with the Democratic nomination so early that there is time for Democrats to cross over into the GOP primaries. That was the only reason McCain was so competitive in 2000, after all. The problem, though, is that every state is rushing to push its primary earlier in the process to preclude being left out.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Herb says:

    McCain is a headline grabing, self centered, wannabe. Everyone calls him a hero, but what the hell did he do to become a hero. He was shot down and spent 5 years in a POW camp in Vietnam along a lot of other guys. He did not distinguish himself in battle nor did he perform any heroic deeds. A vote for McCain would be a vote for the democrats and put our country back 10 years

  2. Ginifer says:

    I think you might be wrong about Rudy Giuliani. He’s more of a moderate and thus makes him more acceptable to Democrats, Independents, and some Republicans.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Ginifer: The problem with “moderates” is that they tend to alienate both sides. His views on abortion and gay rights, especially, will hurt him with Republicans and his views on most other issues will hurt him with Democrats. More importantly, one has to get a party nomination to be a viable presidential candidate.

  4. sandi mertes says:

    A vote for John McCain IS a vote for the democrats. 99 times out of 100, McCain supports ANYTHING put forth by the democrats. Just start watching McCain from now on and you will see for yourself. Sandi

  5. There are over 10 Republican guys testing the political waters and wondering if they need to get a new TUX for their inauguration in 2009. Yet, the most qualified and experienced person who I think will be the next president is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. There is a group promoting her, they have a national base of volunteers. Americansforrice.com provides data and news about this effort. National polls over the past year have kept Condi among the top 3 names for 2008. She also have a 60% job approval rating. As our top diplomat, she has the perfect seat at the political table to run as president in the style of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, and James Buchanan. They were groomed in foreign policy and held the office of Secretary of State before they each were elected as President of the United States.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Crystal: I’m not sure that list makes a very powerful argument. Most were rather poor or forgetable presidents.

    Further, I can’t imagine someone with no history of elective office could get elected president.

  7. James, I guess you forgot that Eisenhower had ZERO political experience when the people of our nation drafted him to be their president in 1952. He was a strong leader, not an isolationist, and able to see the world in need of stability. You might remember Truman had the Korean War turmoil at the same time in 1952, low ratings at 30%, so he did not run again. I find it refreshing that Condoleezza Rice sees the other Republicans as strong leaders, since she has to work with them for the next 3 years. My question back to you James, is why waste the world relationships build over her term as Secretary of State just to satisfy your desire to shove her in the deep dark corner of Congress. Her stature is on the world stage, with an expert vision for inclusive representative government to provide the Arab World with a civilied solution to conflicts instead of blowing up over 20,000 innocent people in Iraq. There are over 4,000 volunteers seeking to change the course of history, and to keep the White House in Republican hands. Compare Condi to most of the 10 or more Republicans testing the waters, and you will find she has maintained 18% to 21% support along with Rudy and McCain in the past year. She surfing on the political waves, while others are stuck in the muck with 5% and 1% or even less. I will take her any day compared to the boring speeches of any Senator. And I remind you, most Senators who ran for President in the past 100 years never got elected to that office.

  8. GC says:

    “Yet, the most qualified and experienced person who I think will be the next president is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.”

    No black will ever get elected President..and no black will ever get the GOP nomination, the party of Tancredo and other bigots.

  9. Sorry, the only people who call Republican BIGOTS are the liberals and the Dems. Funny how they forget their own party created the Jim Crowe laws in the South to block blacks from voting and formed the KKK to kill blacks and burn down their houses. The GOP is a big tent, including Senators like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, as well as other moderates. Also we have black leaders like former Congressman JC Watts of Oklahoma, Lynn Swann running for Gov of Penn, Ken Blackwell running for Gov of Ohio, , Mike Steele running for the US Senate in Maryland, and Keith Butler running for the Senate in Michigan. The Democrats do not own the black citizens and their political views. Black citizens have a choice and the GOP is providing them with solutions for our nation.