Is Rudy Giuliani a 2012 dark horse?

As a 2008 primary front-runner, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani tanked. But as a 2012 dark horse, he could do surprisingly well.

It’s not because Giuliani has shifted; it’s because the Republican Party has. The 2010 election was less about social conservatism than it was fiscal conservatism, and that aligns with Giuliani’s socially moderate and fiscally conservative ideology.

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There is another promising wind of change blowing Giuliani’s way, one that’s less ideological. This isn’t the era of kinder, gentler politicians. This is the age of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — three politicians whose appeal lives, partly, in their aggressive rhetoric.

But, according to Giuliani, he started the political fad. When explaining Christie’s appeal to the New York Post, Giuliani said: “What’s making him popular is that he’s not afraid to be called a bully. I used to be proud to be called a bully, and Christie would call me and tell me, ‘I’m going to do it just the way you did.' "

Thus, both the national ideology and aesthetics of these political times are more favorable to Giuliani than, perhaps, at any time in his political career.

So what’s he been up to?

Leg work:

While Giuliani maintained his visibility at a national level this year through frequent appearances on cable political shows, he also showed the GOP that he was willing to do the less glamorous work of crossing the country on behalf of Republican candidates.

In the run-up to the midterm elections, Giuliani made high-profile visits on behalf of Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Pat Toomey, Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady, Illinois senatorial candidate Mark Kirk, West Virginia senatorial candidate John Raese and many more, garnering significant media attention along the way.

Skeptics often claim that Giuliani’s political activity is simply good business, since it keeps him relevant. For example, Auburn University shelled out $85,000 earlier this year for a Giuliani speech on leadership — an amount that might be less if he weren’t flirting with a bid.
But that obscures the fact that his success, financially, is a good sign of his continuing appeal, politically.

Rhetoric:

The question for any presidential aspirant is whether he or she is building a broad case for the presidency. At the very least, Giuliani has built a broad one against the current president, slamming Barack Obama on everything from foreign policy to being, well, too New York.

Earlier this year, he questioned the president’s philosophical approach to foreign policy, not to mention his actual record, which he’s frequently criticized on missile defense, terrorism and Middle East relationships.

“President Obama thinks we can all hold hands, sing songs and have peace symbols. North Korea and Iran are not singing along with the president.”

And while Gingrich literally wrote a book, christening the Obama administration a “secular-socialist machine,” Giuliani has been similarly critical of the president’s economic policy, telling conservative bloggers that Obama is trying to turn the United States into a “European social democracy.”

Then there’s the ironic and primary-friendly charge that Obama has too much of the mayor’s hometown blood in him.

“The president may be suffering … from the inability to see the rest of America from having a warped view in New York,” Giuliani told ABC’s “The View” last month.

Fire in the belly:

Giuliani has refused several times this year to close the door on a bid. Most recently, he told The Wall Street Journal that it’s been difficult to give up the dream.

“It’s always in your mind when you’ve done something like this,” he said.

And it’s possible that his poor showing in 2008 hasn’t done much to diminish his confidence in another bid. Earlier this year, Giuliani told The Washington Post that his failure could have been as simple as bad timing.

“You know, I was conflicted about running when I did ... I don’t think any Republican could have won in 2008,” he said.

That being said, if he did do it again, it’s not likely he’d take any chances and stake the race on Florida, as he did in 2008.

“If you’re going to run for president and get nominated, you better win Iowa [or] New Hampshire. By then, it’s probably over. If it isn’t over by then, it’s over by South Carolina,” he told the Post.

What lies ahead:

In the end, it’s perhaps smartest to appeal to a former New York state representative, Guy Molinari, who once told reporters of Giuliani: “Rudy is Rudy. Rudy is either going to run or not based on how he feels. He’s not a guy who looks at statistics and worries about the fact that ... maybe he could win, maybe he can’t win.”

And that makes him a wildcard, a dark horse — and a worthy figure to watch in 2012.