I have been meaning to write about this for a while, but I hadn’t gotten my act together. Here’s my thesis: Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson represent two different models (perhaps even polarities) for where the party goes from here.
Rudy Giuliani appeals to certain kinds of swing voters, for example many kinds of Reagan Democrats with toughness, soccer/security moms with security and social moderation/tolerance/liberalism, etc. In some ways, in a Republican Party whose base is increasingly focused on security, Rudy Giuliani is a natural candidate of that new part of the coalition. And he is seen as "electable." And, as one Member of Congress who is leaning towards Giuliani put it the other day, "They guy was #3 in the Reagan Justice Department. How much of a squish could be really be?" In some sense, one could argue that Rudy is a transformational candidate for the party.
At the same time, Fred Thompson is increasingly appearing to be the candidate of social conservatives. (if that proposition had been offered in 2000, it would have been laughable) Perhaps more precisely, he is becoming a part of the candidate of the existing coalition, which is "with but not of" the social conservative movement. This is especially important. To see why, let’s talk a little bit more about what a Rudy Giuliani nominee would mean.
Second, and continuing to assume his success, the transition could be very, very bloody. We would find the volunteers for the swing states at the Presidential level. But could we produce them for Congressional races in places like KS-2, CA-4, CA-11, TX-22, NC-10, etc. In other words, places that won’t be in play at the Presidential level, but will be at the congressional level. The fact is, the nominee will determine the tone of the campaign. The groups can try to turnout volunteers, but I have trouble seeing literally thousands of home schoolers mobilizing for down-ballot races when Giuliani is at the top of the ticket. So I could easily imagine a scenario in which Giuliani succeeds at the top of the ticket , but we suffer down ballot because we can’t crank out of the phone calls in swing districts. But, over time, Giuliani should be able to attract, as President, a new set of volunteers to revert to a more normal situation. (note that Mitt Romney offers another problem. I predict that with him as the nominee we lose lots of close rust belt congressional seats)
The conclusion that I come to from this is that a Thompson candidacy is getting its support from conservative groups partly to maintain some level of control over the party apparatus. Thompson is not perfect. (who would think that the social conservative groups would rally behind a pro-campaign finance reform, anti-marriage amendment, anti-life amendment candidate?) But he does not flood the party with new activists. And, if you were to believe that the party will not keep the White House in 2008 — a safe bet –, then … he’s a safe bet to keep people in their positions of power.
Now, according to this analysis, I think that John McCain might be a happy medium (war hero, emphasizing security, and the most pro-life 1st tier candidate), but the distrust that the base has for him, especially on things like immigration, may be insurmountable.
Just a thought.