Thursday, November 7, 2013

Please, Please, Please Giuliani Is Not a Christie Comp

Can we please get this stopped already? Chris Christie's presidential campaign is not at all similar to Rudy Giuliani's disastrous 2008 bid. Not similar. Not comparable. Okay? Just cut it out.

I'm seeing this all over the place, and it's just terrible.

Viable presidential candidates share two characteristics. They have conventional credentials, and they are within the mainstream of their parties in their positions on matters of public policy.

Granted, sometimes it's a bit tricky to judge. Did House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt have "conventional credentials" in 2004? No one from the House has been nominated in the modern era, but Gephardt himself in 1988 and Mo Udall in 1976 came fairly close. What about (General) Wesley Clark in 2004? But basically, we can look at the winners and all the candidates who came close from 1972 on and see if there's anyone similar. The more the comps, and the closer the comps, the better.

On mainstream views, it's hard to judge in any objective way what counts as sufficiently unorthodox to make a candidacy simply not viable. Almost every candidate has at least one issue position which is not embraced by significant groups within the part. And of course what the "party" thinks is, in part, exactly what's happening in the nomination process. Still, it's not impossible for outsiders to conclude that, say, Ron Paul was out of the GOP mainstream during his candidacies, or that Joe Lieberman's Iraq position was both far from the Democratic mainstream and extremely salient during his failed candidacy.

All of which gets back to Christie/Giuliani.

Giuliani failed both tests. One might argue for his credentials...I wouldn't. At least a couple of mayors have run for president before in the modern era, but none came close to winning. Generally, all the winners and almost all of the runners-up have had at least four years of experience at statewide elected office.

Christie, of course, is almost the classic case: elected governor, served a term, re-elected in a landslide.

As far as mainstream of the party: Giuliani easily failed that one. It's not really necessary to go past abortion, although in 2008 Giuliani was also on the wrong side (for Republicans, that is) on gay and lesbian rights when that issue was far more central to the GOP than it probably will be in 2016. There were more, including some where he had made not particularly convincing campaign conversions, but overall it just wasn't a close call.

Christie will have some problems on some issues with some GOP groups. It may be enough to derail his candidacy. But he's far more similar to Mitt Romney in 2012 and John McCain in 2008 than to Giuliani (or, say, Huntsman in 2012). He has problems, sure, but so do the other candidates. In other words, he may lose, but he's surely viable.

The various fiascoes of the Giuliani campaign were either irrelevant to the basic situation, or (as in his slow retreat from "contesting" states) a consequence of that basic situation -- that is, his claim that he was not contesting state after state was actually pretty much spin to cover the fact of losing in state after state. Therefore, they really don't apply to Chris Christie's situation at all.

Is Christie the frontrunner right now? I don't know. Is he a viable candidate? Sure. Does thinking about what happened to Giuliani help clarify Christie's situation? No. Not at all. Not even a little bit.

Just cut it out, everyone.


  1. M J Rosenberg also does a Giuliani comparison in this column.

  2. Disagree on the utility of comparing them. We can compare things that are different.

    Agree that claiming they are similar is silly. However, they do share one similarity, which is the precise reason why they are being compared. They are both creatures of the NY portion of the universe the national political media operate in. They are both candidates who won on the other party's "turf," which makes them even more interesting to the media.

    To be glib about it, what makes them similar is the underlying reason WHY people are writing these articles. Objective reality about what will happen in 2016 isn't as big a part of that as you would like it to be, but we can still understand why they are being compared, and why that will continue.

    Actually, if one takes the perspective that it's all a media popularity contest, then they are really similar candidates. I think some famous scholar once argued that there had been a rise in the media as political intermediaries, and that a possible consequence of that would be an increased focus on name recognition, celebrity and typecasting. For some reason, I just can't put my finger on who wrote that. I think it was James K. Polk.

  3. Disagree on both counts.

    In terms of credentials, the mayor of New York is easily on a par with a state governor. New York City has roughly as many people as New Jersey, and the mayor of New York will inevitably have a higher media profile. There were many problems with Giuliani's campaign, but no one ever complained that he lacked the gravitas of a Christie Whitman or George Pataki.

    In terms of "mainstream of the party," I would agree that Giuliani was probably a bit farther out than Christie, but you have to look across all issues. Foreign policy was a huge GOP issue in 2007-08, and Giuliani was considered within the GOP to be authoritative on terrorism. Today, the big GOP issue is Obamacare, and Chris Christie told Obama that he could take all of that dirty filthy Obamacare Medicaid money ... and send it to Newark.

    One could go on, but I don't think the differences are so great that the comparison can't be illuminating.

    1. I would disagree with your disagreement, alkali, at least partially. Big city mayoralties are very hard to talk about as each of them is in some way unique, perhaps more so even than governors. There are some big city mayor positions that do give the possibility of other things. The mayoralty of Los Angeles or Oakland seems a perfectly respectable stepping-stone in California politics, and no one feels that Castro has damaged has future prospects by being mayor of San Antonio or that Emmanuel has necessarily ended his career by taking over Chicago city hall. For that matter, Phil Bredesen was not prevented from being governor of Tennessee by having been mayor of Nashville and O'Malley certainly has not been harmed as governor of Maryland by having been mayor of Baltimore. On the other hand, there are some mayoralties that seem to be career-capping positions, the ones that come to mind being Washington, DC, Boston, and New York City. The reasons are undoubtedly complex and controversial, but it seems that the challenges of those positions are so unique that someone who successfully manages them must adapt himself (or herself) politically so firmly to such a specialized environmental niche that he (or she) inevitably becomes unsuited for more general state and national politics. In that sense, Guliani was probably not a good candidate -- nor likely will de Blasio go on to other things, but rather will, if he has any impact on national politics at all, do so by succeeding as a leftish mayor of New York and thus setting an example for more "ordinary" Democratic poltiicians.

    2. @Anastasios: I think the mayoralty of NY is particularly comparable to a governorship as a credential because of the size of the city, the high profile of the position, and the degree of autonomy. (I would not say the same of other cities, even Los Angeles.) You may well be right that there are reasons that a New York mayor would find it difficult to launch a successful presidential bid, but I don't think the reason would be that such a person is "only" a mayor and not a governor.

    3. Alkali,

      I think you're falling into the trap NYC mayors have fallen into themselves since John Lindsay (and probably before then!). Yes, the city is a diverse place with a higher population than many states.

      It also does not require a statewide contest to win. The parties have had plenty of opportunities to recruit a NYC mayor as a presidential nominee, but they never have, because they would be elevating someone who never won a statewide election, outside of a primary contest, for an election where the point is to win a key series of state elections.

      TL;DR: if the NYC mayor wants to be President, let him be the NY state governor first, if he can, and garnish conventional credentials. And if he can't do that, well, then, it's all over.

    4. Yeah, mayor of NYC doesn't work because being an NY Governor or Senator is the next logical step up. And Giuliani considered running for both of those offices.

      Under that logic, only the mayor of DC would qualify. And, hey, if a DC mayor somehow found him or herself with Giuliani-like national popularity (after 9/11, before "noun, verb, 9/11"), without Giuliani-like party heterodoxy, then, sure, why not?

    5. Just wanted to clarify one thing: this is definitely not an assessment of which job best prepares a politician for the presidency.

      It's simply an observation of how the parties treat mayors. It's pretty simple: mayors have not come close to a presidential nomination. We've had small-state governors and Senators, but no mayors. And in the modern era, no mayor has come close, although a couple of NY mayors and one LA mayor (and I think a few small or medium-city mayors) have tried.

      I think the standard line on this is that the sorts of things one has to do to succeed as a big-city mayor sort really badly with the things one has to do to become a viable presidential nominee. At any rate, I mostly agree with that.

      I will readily admit that it's a small enough n that one never can tell for sure. But I think it's strong enough evidence that I have a very high comfort level with it.

    6. I have a hard time with the idea that being elected multiple times as chief executive of a city of 8 million is a less impressive credential than being elected multiple times as chief executive of a state of 3 million (like Clinton). The idea that mayor of New York "is not a statewide race" is just completely circular - it's a race that involves appealing to more voters than all but 11 "statewide races." If New York City were its own state, not part of New York state, would that make a difference?

      The problem isn't that being Mayor of New York isn't a "conventional credential" at the same level as being governor of a medium-sized state. It's that New York politics is so different from politics in the rest of the country that someone elected Mayor of New York isn't going to be well-positioned to run for President.

  4. Isn't Christie pro choice as well?

    1. Nope. I'm sure there are nuances, but he calls himself pro-life.

    2. The difference between him and many other Republicans is that he really doesn't press it as an active agenda item. I imagine a lot of people in New Jersey don't know his position on it.

    3. Scott, agree the Christie doesn't press it as an active agenda item, but would disagree that people don't know his position.

      And of course Christie not pressing the issue increases his appeal to both independent and democratic voters.

  5. OK, this is kind of off-the-wall, but it's what comes to mind for me in talking about Christie. We all know that he's got a characteristic that is unusual for modern, winning presidential candidates: he is really, really heavy. I mean, he weighs a lot -- more than (if he were elected) any president since William Howard Taft.

    I'm already beginning to see what I think is a subtle MSM response to this -- they are publishing photos of Christie shot only from flattering angles. Compare, for instance, the news photos you've seen of Christie lately with those you've seen of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Christie, I think, is already getting some kind of kid-glove MSM treatment, similar to (and motivated similarly to) the treatment once given FDR and his wheelchair.

    So what point am I making? I suppose this: one good index of Chistie's perceived viability as a candidate is the extent to which this continues. If he's still being photographed in early 2016 in ways that make him look like he weighs about 240 lbs. instead of 340, that will mean that the MSM is still persuaded that he might be the next president. If, on the other hand, we start seeing more side-angle photos that emphasize his remarkable girth, that will mean that all hope is lost.

    1. Note the Time cover and the backlash. Not saying you're right or wrong, just that it's apparently out there, and in the minds of more than just yourself.

    2. If Time's cover is controversial, then I think Christie is in trouble. It's just a silhouette shot from the side -- not an explicit depiction of his weight at all. The problem is, though, that you just can't photograph him from the side without highlighting that quality. He's immensely..... large. Bottom line, I guess my intuition is that this is a big problem for him.

    3. Let me hasten to add that I mean a big problem in winning the nomination. If he's nominated, then I'm well aware that the fundamentals take over, and the only issue left is whether it's basically a Democratic year or a Republican year. But I wonder what "party actors" will make of a possible nominee who is so uncharacrtistically unpresidential in that one respect. I can't believe the issue will have no influence.

    4. un-charac-ter-istic-ally. There ya go.

    5. If he were to lose some weight, I'll bet dollars to donuts that it would get coverage, a la Huckabee in 2008.

      They're going to dance around it. They'll also obliquely reference it. Then, that oblique reference will be the subject of a panel discussion on cable news.

      As you note, his weight will get involved in the conversation, either directly or indirectly. I don't think it will have much effect on his chances, but it will affect the world us voracious information consumers live in.

    6. The key could be whether he takes up that "dollars to donuts" bet.

    7. Or if he just takes the donuts.
      Sorry, couldn't resist. And a lot of other people won't either. It's probably his biggest vulnerability, even in this era when on average people seem twice the size they were 30 years ago.

    8. Jeff, Christie knows his weight is a liability. It's probably a major reason why he has had gastric band surgery. He's claimed it was for health reasons and for his family, but let's see what he looks like in 2 years.

  6. I think in the case of New York mayors, credentials and alignment with the GOP mainstream are interrelated. All of the New York mayors in modern times, Democrat and Republican, have been social liberals. Even the recently thrashed Lhota was a social liberal. That's the type of Republican who runs for that office, because it reflects the New York electorate.

    I suppose Giuliani could have increased his chances by pulling a Mitt Romney and flipping on abortion (he sort of flirted with this when he talked about "strict constructionism," which everyone knows is a code word for "I'll appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade"--but he maintained a pro-choice position, at least nominally, into his presidential campaign).

  7. Giuliani's was the classic bubble candidacy, of which we saw many more in 2012. He had basically nothing but some media manufactured aura from 9/11. Once Joe Biden stuck the pin in--with the "noun and a verb and 9/11"-- he was finished in the media, which is the only place he had a candidacy.

    Christie right now may be all media, but if he decides to run it's unlikely he won't have party allies lined up. He doesn't appear to be as gullible as Guiliani.


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