Great mistakes in politics (No11) Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 Presidential Campaign

Initially at least Rudy Giuliani looked like a pretty good bet in the run up to the Republican primaries of 2008. He had fantastic name recognition across the United States and thanks to his leadership as Mayor of New York city during the events of 911, was seen as a hero to many, both on the left and right of the political spectrum.

He spent much of 2007 travelling up and down the country raising money, winning endorsements from party bosses and trying to moderate his liberal position on a range of issues, such as abortion and homosexual rights, in order to appease the Christian Right. Their vote had been vital for George W Bush winning the Presidency in 2000 and 2004, so in order to stand a chance he had to move significantly to the right, while still appealing to moderate Republicans and Independents who made up a  good proportion of his supporters. He seemed to have managed it when polls showed him as one of the frontrunners for the nomination in mid-2007.

Normally primaries in America follow a very strict pattern. Candidates start in January in Iowa and New Hampshire before moving down across the country. Gradually front-runners emerge and candidates drop out until eventually a winner emerges. The conventional campaign wisdom was to apply a large amount of energy and resources to the first two or three primaries. Although comparatively small, these states are disproportionately important because of their status as the first electoral test potential candidates have to face. A good result in these can help make or break a campaign and at the very least they can shape early expectations for the media and public.

However Giuliani and his strategists had come up with a unique and untried plan. They decided that instead of devoting time and manpower to these early primaries they’d instead go for the big wins, starting with Florida and the states that were grouped together under the “Super Tuesday” banner. This was a huge break with the strategy everybody else was following at the time and a significant amount of press attention was focussed on whether it would pay off or not.

The short answer was that it didn’t. By campaigning mostly in the big states Giuliani struggled to win attention in the media in late 2007 and early 2008, as the press continued to concentrate on the early primaries. Partly as a result of this he came sixth in Iowa and fourth in New Hampshire. This helped kill most of the momentum for his campaign down south and by the time of the Florida primary and “Super Tuesday” he was dead in the water, lagging behind McCain, Huckabee and Romney.

Of course this wasn’t the only reason his candiacy faltered. Questions about his private life began to emerge, and the election debates became increasingly about economic concerns rather than matters of national security, that was seen as one of his key strengths. Eventually he decided that the nomination was unwinnable and dropped out, throwing his support behind McCain.

One result of Giuliani’s folly was that the conventional wisdom was validated. No candidate is ever going to deviate from the standard electoral playbook for a very long time for fear of suffering his fate.

Here is Giuliani on various news shows during the campaign, attempting to explain this strategy and why it was still viable:

Also just for the record here is Glenn Beck with what he thought at the time about Giuliani’s national strategy.

For a full list of my previous columns looking at great mistakes in politics click here

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About matthewashton

I'm a Politics Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. I specialise in the fields of American, British and media politics.
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2 Responses to Great mistakes in politics (No11) Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 Presidential Campaign

  1. Pingback: Eleven great political mistakes | Dr Matthew Ashton's Politics Blog

  2. Pingback: Political predictions they got wrong (No33) Newt Gingrich keeps getting it wrong | Dr Matthew Ashton's Politics Blog

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