Stupid stupid stupid media analysis of Giuliani’s “failed strategy”

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How stupid is the political media?  This stupid: they take seriously the notion that Giuliani’s decision to avoid the first six Republican nomination contests was a failed “strategy.”

It was a strategy of sorts, I suppose, in that had Rudy been able to pull off a win in Florida he could very well have been positioned to land a death blow in the Northeast and California on Stupor Tuesday.  But calling it a failed or foolish “strategy” ignores the fact that it was not his free choice or original intention to run to win the nomination in this way.  Rudy waited until Florida for one reason only: because he was hemorrhaging support in the wake of the “Sex on the City” scandals highlighting his misuse of city resources (including the police) in conducting his affair with Judi Nathan, and he needed to lay low.  His alternative to this “strategy” was not to run hard, under the bright media spotlight, in Iowa, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Michigan Nevada, and South Carolina.  His actual alternative at that time was to drop out in disgrace.  He has been running since last fall to avoid that end.

I’m not going to do the work of pointing out when and just after what revelations Rudy’s polling turned south; I think it’s recent enough that we can all remember.  Had Huckabee defeated McCain in South Carolina — a loss largely attributable to the weather in the more religious conservative part of the state, about which Huckabee might wish to ask God — then Rudy would have had more of a chance in Florida.  But still not much of a chance — not because he had skipped the early primaries in a fit of bad strategizing, but because he made police officers walk Judi Nathan’s dog!

Rudy would presumably rather be known as someone who made a political miscalculation than as someone whose outrageous and arrogant personal behavior disqualified him from public office.  And, for whatever reason, the press is playing along.

Here’s Christopher Beam in Slate, extensively quoted because I’m going to rip each part of it to shreds:

Rudy’s Gamble

[T]he most brazen assault on the most conventional wisdom of all-Giuliani’s decision to neglect the early states-has failed miserably.

There were moments when the gamble didn’t seem insane. At one point, Rudy commanded a strong lead nationally and in Florida, which he called his “firewall.” After Huckabee surged last minute and won Iowa, anything was possible. McCain’s win in New Hampshire and Romney’s victory in Michigan didn’t exactly discredit Giuliani’s strategy either. …

The theory started to crack after Michigan, when Giuliani’s numbers began sliding nationally and in Florida. By the time both Romney and McCain snapped up two more trophies, Rudy was all but forgotten. …

So does this reaffirm the rule that you have to win Iowa or New Hampshire to win the nomination? Or was this a worthwhile gamble that didn’t pan out? I’d argue the former. If there was a year to take the risk, it was this one-the chaotic nature of the contest appeared to reward patience. And if there was a person who could pull it off, it was Rudy. He had the national stature to survive without boosts from the earliest states, and Florida is big enough that a win there would have reset the game. All the pieces were there. People are now saying that Rudy did poorly in Florida because he spent so much time there. Either that or, much as we hate to admit it, the conventional wisdom was correct.

How stupid is this?  First, Rudy’s “decision” wasn’t a “gamble,” “worthwhile” or otherwise.  Had he not been wounded by the “Sex on the City” scandal, this is not how he would have run.  He had to make a virtue out of necessity.  He was lying low in Florida among retirees and refugees and hoping for the best.

Second, and incidentally to Rudy, how stupid is it to conclude from this, in this of all years, that you have to win Iowa or New Hampshire to win the nomination?  3% of Florida voters switch to Romney — or 2% of South Carolina voters to Huckabee — and Romney is cruising to a victory right now.  Even as it is, Romney — who won neither Iowa nor New hampshire — is still in the thick of the race.

Third — “and if there was one person who could pull it off, it was Rudy“?????  Yeah, he was perfectly placed — except for that whole Sex on the City scandal, huh?

Mike Madden in Salon takes Rudy’s “strategy” at face value as well:

Rudy Giuliani … relocated his presidential campaign from midtown Manhattan to Winter Park, Fla. The leap to an Orlando suburb was supposed to be the crucial step in the former New York mayor’s triumphant path to the White House. While his rivals punched each other out in states where Giuliani’s pro-choice, gay-loving GOP heresies wouldn’t fly with the base, he’d find refuge here, win the primary and cruise through Feb. 5 — then, ideally, crush Hillary Clinton in an all-New York general election rematch of the Senate campaign he aborted eight years ago.

Instead, Giuliani looks likely to join thousands of other New York natives for whom Florida is the end of the line careerwise, at least as far as his 2008 White House bid goes. …

“This is going to go down as a tragic farce of a decision,” pollster Tom Eldon said of Giuliani’s big bet on Florida. Eldon’s survey for the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald last week showed Giuliani with little hope of pulling into second place, much less first.

To everyone but his own advisors, Giuliani’s rope-a-dope strategy seems, predictably, to have left him seriously wobbling. He has finished no better than fourth — and more often, sixth — in elections in Iowa, Wyoming, New Hampshire, Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Louisiana. At some point, even if you’re not trying to win, losing so often makes you seem like, well, a loser. “He didn’t have to win those states, but he didn’t have to go completely dark,” said one influential Florida Republican, who remains neutral in the race, but didn’t want to be quoted by name criticizing Giuliani’s strategy. “For somebody who’s not a political junkie, who doesn’t watch things closely, he’s probably being viewed as an also-ran,” admitted Greg Madonna, an airline pilot from Weston, Fla., who’s the co-chairman of Giuliani’s campaign in southern Broward County.

Oh, how much nicer it is to be though to have made a tragic farce of a decision than to be a corrupt, self-serving, power-abusing officeholder!  Does Madden truly believe that this would have been Giuliani’s “strategy” if the Sex on the City story — which I truly wish would have been embargoed until February 6 — had not come out?  That would have been insane.  But unlike Muhammed Ali’s brilliant rope-a-dope strategy that won him back the heavyweight crown, Giuliani wasn’t pretending to be unable to move — he was unable to move.  He was a dead man walking.

I could give other examples, but I’ll end with John Dickerson’s column, back in Slate:

Rudy Giuliani finished a distant third in the state where he staked his entire campaign. Months ago he had a huge lead in the polls in Florida, but like those impressive hurricanes that build offshore, he steadily downgraded to tropical storm Rudy. By today, he was little more than a spritzing. There is some debate about the value of momentum in this year’s campaign season, but after big losses in the first six contests, Giuliani’s defeat has confirmed that you can’t have no-mentum. There are many factors that doomed the Giuliani campaign nationally-fears about security receded as a national issue, his personal drama kept tripping him up, and he never seemed to really want the office-but the message from Florida was that the more he met voters, the less they liked him. The more he campaigned, the more he went down in the polls.

At least he gestures slightly towards Rudy’s personal troubles, but he still makes this look like a failure of momentum.  No — Rudy’s momentum was stopped cold by the Sex on the City scandal.  He still had inertia carrying him forward in polls taken in states where voters were not yet paying attention, but his acceleration was negative.  His only hope was that voters would forget his troubles, or that his opponents would rip each other apart to the point where none were viable.  But that was a vain hope.  Rudy has not been running so much for President as for cover: his real strategy was to wait long enough to make defeat seem like it resulted from something other than scandal.

And it worked.  That was Rudy’s actual “victory” in Florida.  Shame on the stupid political media for allowing it to happen.

UPDATE 1: And the New York Times weighs in with more of them same, giving the shortest of shrift to the catastrophe that Giuliani faced last fall.  No, to them, it’s all about the bad political decisions — not the criminality and perfidy!  “Cause and effect is difficult to chart in a presidential campaign,” they note, without wondering whether the reason Giuliani restricted himself to appearing before friendly audiences was because anyone who wasn’t already in the bag for him would tear him apart!  As for why his poll numbers didn’t sink immediately — well, neither did the Titanic.  You take on water first.  People looked to see whether Rudy had an answer to the charges, and — he didn’t.  And he had to hide.  Then his numbers really sank.

UPDATE 2: Thanks to whomever at Time.com chose this as a related story.  Among other things, it gives me a chance to cite Time’s own coverage.  Get a load of this:

“I don’t want to hate on his strategy, but I don’t think you can blow off all those states and expect people to forget about that,” says Zeke Romero, a 20-year-old Florida International University student who came to a Giuliani rally on campus Monday night. “Why did he do that?”

Yes, why did he do that? “There will be time to assess that after today,” Voight said on Rudy’s campaign plane. “Maybe it should be assessed.” Or as one Giuliani aide mused with a fatalistic sigh: “They’ll be asking that question in political science classes for years to come.”

I’m a former Political Science professor, teaching mostly American politics.  If I were to ask that question in a class, it would be to figure out which of my students could look past the fog of media coverage and see the obvious truth.  Would a true front-runner — that is, someone still favored to win an election — have taken this strategy, with its low probability of success?  Or does the adoption of this strategy suggest that Giuliani was no longer a true front-runner after the Sex on the City scandal captured elite attention, with elites understanding that there was a high certainty that the Democrats would use it to crush him to a fine paste in the fall?

If the question of Rudy’s amazingly bad strategy is asked in poli sci classes in years to come, it will say more about the sorry state of post-secondary education than whether there’s an actual mystery there.  Will they even teach the students about Sex on the City?  The first draft of history — today’s journalism — suggests that they won’t.

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19 comments

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  1. Incidentally, I know that that was a line of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s in Boogie Nights, but does anyone know where that line originated?  It already seemed familiar when it appeared in that film.

    And yes: the political media is stupid.  Breaking news, that.

    • TMC on January 30, 2008 at 11:21 am

    Voters began to see Rudy’s true colors when this scandal broke. Prior to that, the voices of his 9/11 critics went unheard, mostly because the criticism came from New Yorkers even though they were Fire Fighters who lost the most on 9/11. Rudy is a petty, vindictive, secretive man with a Napoleonic complex. It was always his way or the highway and at the tax payers of NYC’s expense. He fought many of his battles in the courts and lost and this cost NYC millions of dollars. Now everyone knows what a farce Rudy is. Now, the final blow would be for NY State AG Andrew Cuomo to indite him on the same charges (fraud and abuse of tax payer funds) that were brought against Alan Hevesi, the former Elect-State Comptroller.

    • plf515 on January 30, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Perhaps a simpler dynamic was at work: The more that Republican voters saw of him, the less they wanted to vote for him.

    Or, as I always said about Rudy: If you like him, you don’t know him well enough

  2. though I have only skimmed it….

    Rudy defeat marks end of 9/11 politics

    Fortunately, the Republicans still have two fine choices, a borderline psychotic paranoid who wants to bomb Iran and a Mormon quick change artist with great hair.

  3. Tho I could be wrong (it wouldn’t be the first time 😉 — I think Rudy’s numbers began really tanking after the Sex on the City reports began to go public.  

    Even the most arrogant of the GOP insiders must have known that if mayor 911 got the nomination, the Democrats would be more than happy to spend most of their time talking about Rudy’s sexcapades & pointing out how the GOP impeached Bill for Monicagate.  GOP power brokers & insiders would have been crazy to put their efforts into promoting Rudy.  

    Of course, the media has been strangely subdued about covering the scandal.  IMHO, if it had been a Democratic candidate that did exactly the same thing Rudy did–there would be a continual 24/7 scandalfest on all the “news” networks, expecially on Faux “news”.

     

    • documel on January 30, 2008 at 5:17 pm

    I think Biden’s criticism of Rudy being a noun, a verb, and 9/11 exposed Rudy as a heartless characurture of a fake hero.  That said, Romney is just as shitty, just as flip floppity, and a Mormon.  Rudy should have done equally well–his problem was he refused to wear a wig.  To the media, that would have given him gravitas!!

  4. Major D – TIME picked up your post as a “related article” off this page: Giuliani Completes His Collapse

    We got a few referrals coming from that URL – I think that’s very cool. Thought you might like to know too.  

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