• The resiliency of Rudy (Chuck Todd)
For all the chatter of Clinton v. Obama and the frequent Elizabeth Edwards barb targeted at Clinton, one of the more remarkable (and under-reported) stories of the summer has been the steady strength of Rudy Giuliani. Not only is he the current frontrunner in the polls, but it appears the entire GOP primary field is fighting to be the alternative to him, come January. What does that mean? It means his GOP foes have already conceded Giuliani a free pass to the January finals. Apparently, they don't plan to attempt to knock him out before January. And the longer Giuliani goes fairly unscatethed, the harder it will be for any of his foes to ever knock him out.
He's borrowing a smart page from the Bush '00 playbook: when talking about his messy personal life, he waves away criticism with generalizations like the one he mentioned at a recent debate when he was to recount the biggest mistake he had made. Giuliani countered with something like: "You want me to recount my mistakes in 30 seconds?" The message was clear to GOP voters: you know my flaws, but its my strengths you want to focus on. Bush, of course, was supposedly going to be knocked out by his one-time hard-partying lifestyle but Bush never would acknolwedge any individual discretion. Instead, he owned up to all of them without ever giving credence to any of the rumors by saying, "when I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible." Giuliani is doing the same thing: he's acknowledging his, well, messy personal life without ever devling into details and giving life to any one rumor or story.
So far, the strategy is paying off. The focus with Giuliani is not about his personal past, but on whether he's conservative enough for the GOP. And on that front, Giuliani is proving he is conservative enough, thanks, in part, to having three key challengers who are not pure conservatives either (Romney, Thompson and McCain).
That brings me to Giuliani's trump card right now: electability. If Giuliani wasn't as strong in the general election matchups with Clinton and Obama, all of his ideological problems would be just that: problems. But as long as he's even or ahead in those national polls and his chief primary rivals are not, Giuliani's going to have a leg up.
Giuliani still has a few more tests to pass before he's the nominee (how will he react to the inevitable tabloid story about his family and what happens if he does lose his temper and the media piles on?), but he's a heckuva lot closer to getting to his goal than any of his primary rivals. That fact alone makes Rudy's resiliency one of the under-appreciated stories of this campaign cycle.
• Welcome back, Washington (Hilary Rosen)
September 4, 2007. The day after Labor Day is usually a day of new beginnings in Washington. Springs gaffes are long forgotten and campaign season is underway. September is usually the fresh and happy return for a humming Congress moving in sync with a full bore Presidential campaign season.
But this week will be different from any September I can ever recall. In fact, Washington will be a very grumpy place this month. There are several reasons why:
1) Scandals still stink - The most recent scandal involving Senator Craig’s bathroom escapades and Senator Vitter’s calling call girls from the cloakroom are still too fresh to be forgotten in either the voter’s mind or Capitol Hill’s water cooler talk. Craig resigned but Vitter hasn’t and we haven’t seen the end of that discussion yet.
2) Congress will be the Unlucky Decider on the War - An unpopular war will be under the most intense scrutiny it has received since it started from both Democrats and Republicans when General Petraeus comes to Capitol Hill with his recommendations for its future.
3) The Republicans have lost their Leader - An unpopular President has lost the leadership, not just of the American people but also of his own party. Therefore the Republicans running for President are desperately searching for their own messaging and the Republicans in Congress are left to battle the Democratic majority on their own.
4) The Democratic base threatens revolt - House Democrats are facing serious dissatisfaction among their rank and file over a perceived slowness to stop the war by withdrawing funding as well as over a summer gift given to the White House over the liberals objections that expanded wiretapping authority for the administration.
Nonetheless, I’d much rather be Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi (or Barack Obama and Harry Reid for that matter) than Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney or Mitch McConnell. In the Presidential race, the Democrats have a base that is happily choosing among primary candidates they like. And the Democrats in Congress know that they are going to kick the President around all fall. Enough legislation has been moved into position in the Democratic Congress that they can legitimately claim progress even if the Republicans become obstructionists this fall. We will continue to see huge efforts on coordination of the Democratic message.
The Republic picture is not nearly so rosy. And not just because of Senators Larry Craig and David Vitter. The Republicans in Congress are now splitting on Iraq. The venerated John Warner is calling the President on the carpet and will bring several of his more independent colleagues with him. The House Republicans may stick on Iraq but they are still mad about the Immigration debacle and are likely to create an agenda separate from the White House to prove they are powerful to their base. And the Republicans running for President would like to take the next month of Iraq reports and the Bush tour of America and hide. They want none of it. Yet they also know that Republican Party loyalists are still grousing about their primary options so doing nothing isn’t really an option.
So, welcome to Washington in September. By October, it may all be different. But it is going to be a grumpy month.