For political parties in America, winning elections is no longer simply about picking the best candidate and letting the voters decide. When your bench is short, sometimes the best strategy is to stir up lots of dirt and hope the voters give you the candidate you can trounce.
Democrats, tired of losing Presidential elections, look like they’re poised to try to knock out Rudy Giuliani, the most electable Republican in the field, before he gets a chance to take on their nominee. And their first strike is the mayor’s position on gay rights – a position I support. Rudy’s less-government positions from taxes to social issues are why I want Giuliani to be the Republican nominee.
But conventional wisdom among Democrats and Big Media elites is that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has a tough road to hoe if he wants to win the Republican nomination for President of the United States. They believe that the very reason that Giuliani may be electable in a general election – his moderate positions on social issues which are much more in touch with mainstream America – will disqualify Giuliani from any hope of winning a Republican Primary where conservative “base” voters are more active.
Making Giuliani more dangerous is his ability to get votes from people you wouldn’t think would support him. He got elected as a Republican in New York City – which was never supposed to happen. Now, he’s wooing a plurality of Republican Primary voters to his side.
A recent, lengthy, New Yorker article summed this up nicely: “Giuliani’s challenge was to convince Republicans that his social positions should not be held against him any more than the color of his eyes – he was from New York, he couldn’t help it. Giuliani had to demonstrate that he was one of them, and that their enemies were his enemies, too.”
And let’s face it, what Democrat wouldn’t prefer to run against Mitt Romney in 2008? So, to eliminate the Giuliani threat, don’t be surprised to see Democrats meddling in the GOP primary by taking a page from one of the most cynical politicians of our time, the one belonging to former – and not much missed – California Governor Gray Davis.
Pardon the brief history lesson; if you’re from California, this is familiar territory. If not, it’s a good mirror of current events. In 1998, Gray Davis found himself elected Governor of California with the help of campaign wiz Garry South on the basis of a simple campaign slogan crafted in a race against two mega-rich opponents. The catch-phrase, “A Governor Money Can’t Buy,” was enough to get the career politician swept into office. But within four years, Californians learned that while Davis might not have been able to buy the election, once in office, he certainly had a price. One Californians were paying with his poor stewardship of the state purse-strings. But he won re-election. Why? He found a Republican he could beat and made sure he was the nominee.
In 2002, Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan’s nomination for governor appeared as inevitable as the words “President Hillary Clinton” seem today. Riordan, like Giuliani, was a big city mayor who had convinced a heavily Democratic town to support him despite his party affiliation. Running against him was California version of Mitt Romney, a self-made millionaire named Bill Simon. Simon said everything he needed to to win the support of the GOP base – he was against abortion, taxes and Democrats – but California Republicans knew he was unelectable even against damaged goods like Gray Davis.
Master-minded by political consultant Garry South, Davis’ campaign sent targeted messages to Republican voters, attacking Riordan for his positions on social issues, like his support for abortion rights and more, taking issues for which GOP voters had forgotten or forgiven Riordan and bringing them to the forefront of the public debate. Davis’ campaign even master-minded an attack on Riordan for supporting–get this–Gray Davis! It worked. Bill Simon became the nominee and promptly lost the race to Davis, paving the way for 2003’s Recall and the election of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It’s no stretch, then, to imagine a shadowy Democrat-funded 527 group running ads in South Carolina attacking Giuliani’s support for gay rights, sending out mailers in Iowa claiming Giuliani supports abortions or stirring up talk in Texas that the former mayor wants to take their guns away. It’s already happening. The very week that the Democratic candidates held a forum in Los Angeles to discuss gay and lesbian rights a website cropped up called “Gays for Giuliani.”
The website purported to be a site run by homosexuals in New York who wanted to see their former mayor elected president and were targeting their message to the deep South. The parody video talks about Giuliani’s creation of a Domestic Partner registry in New York while mayor and highlight plaudits he received from gay-rights groups like the Empire State Pride Agenda and Log Cabin Republicans.
Serious journalists from Reason Magazine to the Los Angeles Times have asked, straight-faced, whether the site was real or whether it was really an attack against the former mayor. Which means it’s worked; conservative Republicans now know Giuliani is in favor of gay rights. A simple search of domain registries would show that “Gays for Giuliani” isn’t for Giuliani at all. The website is owned by the notorious Mike Rogers, an avowed Democrat and blogger-activist best known for outing Republican Members of Congress and their staffs. He’s got as much interest in seeing Rudy Giuliani become president as I do in seeing Dennis Kucinich move into the White House.
The Huffington Post is soliciting funds for the “Gays for Giuliani” campaign, which has one lawyer friend of mine upset. He emails, “Gays for Giuliani is not a legal campaign but is anti-Giuliani campaign and NOT registered yet it is soliciting funds through The Huffington Post and a Pay Pal Account. It is illegal.” I am no election law expert – and the law here is not clear at all – but this probably crosses some line that John McCain and Russ Feingold considered in their efforts to reform campaign spending.
It is kind of ironic that people who claim to support gay rights would be trying to eliminate the electoral hopes of any Republican that agrees with that idea, kind of like the NRA running an ad against a Democrat who supported gun control. But politics today is apparently no longer about policy. It’s about winning. At all costs.
Editor’s Note: Spot-on’s Mike Spinney has had a few comments recently about politics and winning. You can read that here. And Chris Nolan’s been worrying about the use of dirty tricks in on-line campaigning since the early summer. That post is here.