Monday, October 29, 2007

Rudy Unbound or Bound

THE RUDY CEILING? The current argument against Rudy Giuliani winning the Republican presidential nomination is that his support has peaked at 25-30%. From this perpsective, either Romney or Thompson will emerge as the sole candidate of social conservatives and grab a majority of convention delegates.

LITTLE SLIVERS OF HIS OWN. I'm not buying this argument though. As I've noted before, Giuliani is running the smartest of the Republican presidential campaigns. Today, he has a nice manuever in relation to Hillary Clinton idea of sending emissaries abroad after her election to let other countries know that the era of "cowboy democracy" is over. Instead of taking the "hard road" of defending Bush's foreign policy, Giuliani limited himself to the easily recognizable point that such an action would be inappropriate as long as George Bush was still president.

Given the savviness of the Giuliani campaign, it's more likely that he will pick up significant slivers of support from failed McCain and Huckabee campaigns that will push him up around 34-35%.

That's a number from which Giuliani can beat either Romney or Fred Thompson. The major threat to Giuliani is that Mitt Romney would develop a lot of momentum after wins in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan. However, just as Giuliani's lack of social conservativism puts a ceiling on his appeal, Romney's phoniness will limit his ability to convert early victories into broad support. It's not that Romney is any more of a phoney than Ronald Reagan, the current George Bush, or any other presidential candidate. It's just that Romney doesn't have the actor's skill of projecting authenticity. As a result, it looks to me that Romney ultimately will cap out in the high twenties.

That leaves Fred Thompson. Thompson has always looked like a regional candidate from the South and he still looks like a regional candidate. There was a time when I thought that gave Thompson an edge because of the size of the Greater South including the Old Confederacy, the border states of Kentucky, Missouri, and West Virginia, Oklahoma, much of Indiana, and Southern Ohio.

But Thompson's presidential campaign hasn't shown enough in the way of planning, coherence, or energy to take advantage of Thompson's "natural" advantages. Southerners have a lot of regional loyalty, but not enough for a candidate as bad as Fred Thompson to hold the region.

The question then is who is going to pick up Thompson's support after Fred realizes that running for president isn't any more fun than being in the Senate.

In a lot of ways, it will be a toss-up. The conservativism of Southern Republicans has two sides, the social conservatism of the religious right and the militarism of the macho good-ole-boys, racists and warmongers. In a two-man contest, Romney will try to work the social conservatism while Giuliani plays up the militarism.

But right now, I would give Rudy an edge just because his campaign is better at seizing the initiative and taking advantage of small openings than Romney's.

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