Just when the Southerners thought the silverware was safe from yankees, here come not one but two New Yorkers, both aiming for the White House.
Hillary is already tracking snow into parlors in New Hampshire and Iowa, and now Rudy Giuliani has finally wound up his impersonation of Hamlet, filing a “statement of candidacy” with the Federal Election Commission that is tantamount to announcing that he, too, really and truly yearns to be president of the United States. Soon they’ll head South, where presidential candidates, particularly Republicans, must do or die.
There’s a delicate dance these worthies must master. First, a prospective candidate comes to the attention of “the Great Mentioner,” as columnist Russell Baker famously called him. The Great Mentioner (a distant cousin of the Great Pumpkin) is a crucial character in speculation about prospective candidates, as in, “also being mentioned are ‘blah, blah and blah.’ ”
Once the Great Mentioner takes notice, the prospective candidate starts showing up at the Rotary Club in Dubuque, a Kiwanis luncheon at the Wayfarer Inn in Manchester, and finally a Lions Club barbecue in Charleston, demurely insisting that he’s “only testing the waters.” He’s calculating whether he can raise the money. After that, it gets serious, with assorted merlins, magicians and other planted wise men making sure the prospective candidate’s name gets in as many “thumb-suckers” and other analytical dispatches as possible. Finally, there’s the filing of paperwork to establish an “exploratory committee.” This enables federal oversight of fundraising. But there’s still time to bail.
Rudy Giuliani has been particularly fortunate, because he hasn’t had to work very hard to keep Giuliani talk alive. So spontaneous has the pop, crackle and snap of media speculation been, in fact, that the heroic mayor of September 11 has had to dampen speculation lest it force too soon his signature to the paperwork. But unless he jumps soon he risks premature eradication as the Mario Cuomo of the new season, recalling how a popular governor of New York first said he would, then he said he wouldn’t, then he said he would, and finally didn’t. By this time, Michael Dukakis, “the little Duke,” was on his way to oblivion, with a detour through the Democratic Party in the autumn of ‘88.
Mr. Giuliani is no mere duke, but one of the princes of the party, who would step onto the field fully the equal of, and not far behind, John McCain and Mitt Romney, who have already declared. He has moved in recent days from saying he wants to decide whether his “vision for the future” (what George Bush the elder famously dismissed as “the vision thing”) can enable him to make a “unique contribution” to saying “there’s a real good chance” he’ll run. Cliches are the language of this dance ritual.
By running, Mr. Giuliani will challenge the rule that someone with a shady past can’t persuade the social conservatives that a half-loaf of white bread beats going to bed hungry. He suffered a messy divorce and for a time lived with two gays and their fuzzy little Shih Tzu. Not even a real man’s dog, and his views on gun control, abortion and homosexual rights are Democratic applause lines.
Only yesterday Nelson Rockefeller’s millions foundered in California, of all places, on a divorcee named Happy, making Barry Goldwater possible and jump-starting the conservative revolution. Now we’ll see whether support for abortion and homosexual rights have replaced divorce as the candidacy killer. The Giuliani strengths are the strengths most appreciated by those most critical of his weaknesses on the social issues. Republicans generally and conservatives in particular appreciate the threat from the Islamic radicals, who vow to destroy us or enslave us in a 21st-century ideology disguised as a 12th-century religion. The Democrats, patriots all, think the only fundamentalists we should worry about are the Christians down the street. Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are harmless figments of right-wing Republican fantasies, and it’s the likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who are the villains of Democratic imaginations.
Conservative Republicans, particularly in the South, know better. They have only to decide whether they’re frightened most by the terrorist armed with a Koran and a dirty bomb, or by an abortionist and two little men atop the wedding cake.
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