Last week I wrote about McCain as the candidate who had replaced Giuliani, and this seems to be holding true. This will have an effect on Florida voting, since there is little incentive to take a chance on a broke, untested Giuliani campaign when you can back McCain, and you can get pretty much the same combination of crazy foreign policy and immigration liberalism but with none of the weird and creepy baggage that goes with supporting Giuliani. What occurred to me tonight as I thought about the South Carolina result is how much McCain’s campaign has matched up in practice with Giuliani’s alleged “strategy” of exploiting a divided field on the right to propel himself to the frontrunner position. The assumption of the Giuliani “plan” was that multiple winners in the early contest prevented consolidation around any one candidate, which then allowed Giuliani to sneak in through the back door. The only problem with this was that he was supposed to retain a prohibitive advantage in February 5 big states where his New York Republicanism would not offend nearly so many. In the event, his support in almost all the big states has started to collapse, even in New York and New Jersey, because he failed to consider that his candidacy was redundant and irrelevant the moment McCain’s campaign revived.
Giuliani hoped, and probably still hopes, that the divided field would work to his advantage, but with his failed under-the-radar direct mail Iowa campaigning following his pre-Ames retreat, his on-again, off-again New Hampshire effort (which was, as Michael correctly said at the time, mostly an anti-Romney effort based on the reasonable assumption that Romney was his principal rival), his belated abandonment of Michigan and his simply miserable organisation in Nevada he ensured that the natural home for his voters would be with McCain. McCain has shown that you can either exploit a divided field from the beginning or you cede the ground to someone else who can. You do not get to wait for the others to tear each other apart and expect to sweep in like a conquering hero. McCain’s implosion last summer will now be seen as a blessing in disguise, since it made him hone his message, trim his operating costs and husband his resources carefully, while Giuliani took his reasonably successful fundraising and started throwing money around with little concern for long-term funding, when his supposed “strategy” relied on precisely the kind of close control over funds that McCain’s campaign had to practice out of necessity.
The flaw with Giuliani’s campaign was also the central flaw with Fred Thompson’s campaign, which the Fred Hysteria exacerbated severely: anointing a candidate as the “obvious” or “necessary” candidate to fill a void or assume a leadership role removes all incentive for the candidate to exert himself and do the necessary persuading that he is the best candidate, when has already received that title by acclamation before he got started. When you treat a politician as if he is the answer to some woe, he becomes very pleased with himself, a little too pleased, in fact, and then he becomes resentful when you do not immediately provide him with the laurel crown. Having no business in the race, but propelled there because of the official narrative that 9/11 qualified him for a completely different job with utterly different responsibilities from those he had in New York, Giuliani went with the official narrative and played it for all it was worth. When that didn’t work, he had little else to offer. Likewise, having no business in the race, but propelled there by the idea that he was the “consistent conservative” alternative to a field of squishes and heretics, Fred Thompson stuck to that “consistent conservative” message, as if to say, “Okay, Reaganites, I have arrived–now flock to me!” When voters did not respond to this fairly weak appeal, Fred became rather surly and kept reiterating how very serious he was, and he wasn’t in the campaign to act like some game show contestant who had to buzz in with an answer in the form of a queston. He had policy papers! He even called them “white papers”! Haven’t you read them all? As with Fred, Giuliani’s was a celebrity candidacy, but one also premised on having the charisma and command to unify a disillusioned, confused party. In the end, the candidates reputed to have charisma and command possessed neither, and their absence from the early contests (with the exception of Fred’s very belated Iowa push) reminded voters that the two candidates who were supposed to drive all before them had fled several of those states out of a very reasonable fear of defeat.
P.S. Earlier, I argued that, while satisfying to antiwar conservatives, the demise of Giuliani was a victory for hegemonists, whose goals will not be burdened any longer by Giuliani’s personal history and social liberalism. No longer will social conservatives have to hold their noses to keep the perpetual war going. In a strange way, Giuliani’s failure is a very good thing for the War Party.