By A. B. Stoddard - 01/30/08 05:33 PM EST
Won’t we always remember the baseballs, signed by America’s Mayor, waiting in humble resignation on each seat of the press plane the day before Florida ended Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign? The parting gifts, nostalgic tone and sinking polls had made it clear. Yet while defeat was anticipated, Giuliani’s classy exit was not. The man sometimes known as a brawling bully to friend and foe alike departed the GOP field with magnanimity, humor and grace.
In the face of loss, Giuliani resisted wallowing, and immediately offered his support to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). He also made sure to credit all his former opponents and said, “These are honorable people. They’re accomplished public servants and they’re good men.”
During the weary days leading up to the Sunshine State primary Giuliani kept his chin up. The crowds were thinning, the poll numbers lagging, and the endorsements for McCain kept coming. “If you contemplate defeat, you’re going to have defeat. If you contemplate victory, you give yourself the best chance of winning,” Mr. Sunny told reporters looking for a funeral.
From the beginning, never formally announced, the campaign faced what seemed like insurmountable odds. It would attempt to sell a pro-gay rights, pro-abortion rights, pro-gun control Republican to the GOP base but skip the early small states where concentrated collections of faithful Republicans could stop him — a strategy never before employed by a Republican nominee.
Early on an internal memo cataloging Giuliani’s many potentially fatal liabilities was leaked to the press by a rival campaign. Observers warned a galvanized Christian Coalition would mobilize against Giuliani. There was also the issue of Giuliani’s famed temper that many suspected would end his candidacy, perhaps in a church basement somewhere with Rudy unleashing on some poor old lady and telling her where she could put it.
But Rudy’s anticipated implosion was not to be. Neither was the revolt from the Christian conservatives whose denial left them so paralyzed that Pat Robertson went ahead and endorsed Rudy while his brethren failed to rally behind an alternative, sitting mute or splitting for Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson or Mike Huckabee. Commentators, including George Will and Robert Novak, weighed in not with approval so much as acknowledgment or validation that Rudy’s gamble just might pay off.
Giuliani ran a positive campaign that stayed focused on the issues and on his strengths, instead of the weakness of his opponents. His record in New York, on crime and welfare and taxes, were enough of a platform without his leadership after Sept. 11, 2001. And with the exception of the contentious issue of immigration, Giuliani offered himself up free of flip-flops (or what Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., liked to call “road to Des Moines conversions”). He embraced a kind of won’t-run, won’t-hide straight talk about his positions that echoed McCain.
Ultimately Giuliani lost his front-runner status by both engaging and ignoring the voters. He was reportedly a limited campaigner, eschewing lengthy questions and time with voters across the rope lines. According to ABC News, which compiled records of Giuliani’s New Hampshire travels, he actually held more events there than any other contender, including McCain. Recently The New York Times and The Washington Post have reported that indeed, the longer Rudy stayed in a state, the more his support there declined.
Giuliani was never running as the most likable person. He planned on winning heads instead of hearts in the popularity contest by being Super Cop, to prove that his leadership — not his style — would keep us safe and move the country forward. He was never pretending to be Mr. Nice Guy. But he sure looks like one now.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.