Saturday, August 18, 2007

Giuliani's Teflon

One of yesterday's big stories was a report in The New York Times that Rudy Giuliani spent a hell of a lot less time at Ground Zero than the typical recovery worker in the aftermath of 9/11, despite having claimed several times that his exposure and the workers' was the same. And earlier this week, Giuliani became emotional and defensive when asked about his strained relations with his family (his daughter, of course, has said she's backing Barack Obama).

Too bad none of this will have any effect on his chances of becoming president.

I keep hearing that bad news in going to sink Rudy's campaign any minute now. I've been hearing that for months. Yet the latest Rasmussen poll shows him pulling away from Hillary Clinton in a general election matchup, while a CBS poll shows him pulling away from his Republican rivals.

Here's the problem: Giuliani isn't like most presidential aspirants -- he's already well known (or, to be precise, voters think they know him), and his image is already so pleasing to so many people that they don't want to believe bad things about him.

In other words, he already has Teflon.

How does this happen? I think it happens when voters think a politician has truly fought for ordinary people and suffered attacks while doing so. (Try to suppress your gag reflex -- I'm talking about what the public thinks, not what I think.) Voters think Giuliani cleaned up New York all by himself and then personally took a direct hit 9/11 on America's behalf. They thought Bush took a hit on 9/11 on America's behalf, too, and then fought to keep us safe. They felt that Clinton battled political enemies and forged a more prosperous nation. And they they saw Reagan as a champion of ordinary people who was mocked and shot.

All these guys had Teflon. With the exception of Bush, they were forgiven when they subsequently made mistakes.

The people trying to take down Giuliani think they can do it by revealing his flaws, and by making embarrassing revelations about his past. But that's how you bring down an ordinary presidential aspirant about whom the public hasn't made up its mind. A huge chunk of the public has already made up its mind about Rudy -- they think he's a hero -- and they don't want to be confused by the facts. They hear about a new criticism of him and they think his attackers must be more of the small and/or evil people he's fought all along.

So how do you beat him? Well, the one guy on my list who's lost his Teflon is Bush. Now, most people think that Bush's popularity has plummeted because of the whole list of his failings, but I don't -- I don't think Plamegate and Alberto Gonzales and even Abu Ghraib have hurt him very much with people who once voted for him.

Obviously, the #1 reason is the war -- it's the fact that he's sending ordinary Americans to die in a war we can't win, and that everyone now knows was fought for a series of lies. He seemed like a tough guy who was keeping us safe; now he seems like a reckless guy whose desire for confrontation is making us unsafe. He had macho swagger, but now we know he's like a guy who goes into a bar and picks fights with people who can beat him, and that endangers everyone he's with. Even admirers of macho men don't want to be around a guy like that.

If people think Giuliani is a macho hero, they'll overlook his family troubles. They may not even be impressed if someone says he lied about his exposure to Ground Zero toxins. (They may just regard the Times reporter as a pathetic bean-counter; the criticism seems so actuarial.) But if they can be made to believe that Rudy won't keep us safe, his Teflon may get scratched.

That's why I keep saying we have to make him seem as reckless as Bush, and as likely to get us into fights we shouldn't fight. The country has to see that his flashes of temper when he was mayor were habitual, as was his habit of declaring anyone who disagreed with him an enemy for life. And they have to see that his foreign policy is going to be as bellicose and as black-and-white as Bush's. Combine the two and you've got a guy who's going to keep miring us in conflict. He's not a hero -- he's a borderline psychopath. He loves fighting too much. He won't keep us safe, and that's why.

If people can be made to believe Rudy has an anger-management problem, they might just stop admiring his pugnaciousness. It's the only line of attack that's going to make him seem less than heroic to a large segment of the country. And if we don't call his hero status into question, no other criticism is going to stick.


Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.)