This afternoon, I interviewed former Iowa Congressman Jim Nussle, who is a senior adviser to the Giuliani campaign. Nussle is one of those people you like almost instantly. He was very generous with his time, and used it to make a strong case on behalf of Giuliani.
I began by asking how Giulani’s campaign looks in Nussle’s home state. The Congressman replied that although Giuliani kicked things off in Iowa three months before George Bush did in the 2000 cycle, he’s late by the standard of this cycle. Although Giuliani will hardly ignore Iowa — he’s due in tomorrow for a rally in Des Moines — Nussle confirmed that the Mayor will not be camping out in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina. He plans instead to run a national campaign. Nussle noted that while long-shot candidates have to focus on the three early states, a truly national candidate must have a national focus. And considering the need to raise money and Giuliani’s late start, it would not make sense to center his campaigning on three states.
Next I asked about the fundraising numbers that have just been released. Nussle said he was “pleasantly surprised” by Giuliani’s showing — approximately $15 million — and added that John McCain’s less impressive showing is a sign of the “overall challenge” the Senator’s campaign is facing. This is what one would expect a member of the Giuliani campaign to say, but it’s hard to disagree. On the Democratic side, Nussle said the story was how well Hillary Clinton’s rivals are hanging in there.
We then turned to the matter of Giuliani and the social conservatives. I noted that Rudy has been surprisingly well-received by leaders of the social conservative movement, but that most rank-and-file social conservatives apparently don’t yet know about his positions on issues like gun control, abortion, and gay union. My question was whether when rank-and-file social conservatives learn this they will be as “forgiving” as the leadership.
Nussle said that “time will tell,” but that so far the signs are favorable to Giuliani. As more information comes out, his popularity among Repubicans seems to be increasing, not decreasing. Nussle suggested that this is because while some of the new information may be viewed as unfavorable, much of it is clearly favorable. Among the favorable information is Giuliani’s “authentic conservatism” on economic and security issues, as well as his record in New York. Americans mostly know Guiiani from 9/11, but as they learn about what he did for New York prior to that date, they respect him even more.
Americans have not learned much about Giuliani’s personal life yet, and some Republicans worry that if Giuliani blows away the Republican field in part because of the electability factor, the party may develop a serious case of buyer’s remorse once the details of his private life are revealed on a daily basis. Nussle tried to downplay this concern. The public, he argued, understands that polticians are human beings, and that human beings make mistakes. They key for a poltician is how he handles himself in this context. Giuliani admits to his mistakes and frailties, and thereby comes across as authentic, which is why, according to Nussle, he “wears so well.”
Nussle went on to make the affirmative case for Giuliani. He focused on two areas: Giuliani’s record and his electability. As to the former, Nussle maintained that no other candidate matches Giuliani’s record for tax cutting, government reform, fiscal responsibility, and crime fighting. On national security, only McCain is in the same league, but Giuliani has relevant administrative experience in this regard that McCain lacks. I suspect that Nussle is under-selling Romney’s record as an economic conservative, but I can’t deny that across the range of issues Nussle identified, there’s much to like about Rudy.
As to electability, Nussle argued that 2006 highlighted the difficulties the party will face in 2008. “Traditional Republicans” face an uphill battle in this climate because they lack appeal to independent voters and Reagan Democrats. Giuliani has that appeal. Thus he can put states like New Jersey, Michigan, California, and New York in play, and has the best chance of keeping states like Florida and Ohio in the Republican column. This argument, of course, is Giuliani’s trump card, except to the extent one fears his personal life negates it.
I asked about Fred Thompson. Nussle said he likes Thompson and thinks he might fill the need of those who are looking for a candidate who can “check off” more conservative “boxes” than can Giuliani and the others presently in the field. But for Nussle, who himself has a strong conservative (and social conservative) voting record, the focus should not on checking off boxes — many of which concern issues over which the president can have little impact — but on the big ticket items, namely the strength of the country and its economic health and direction. It is here, Nussle contends, that Giuliani outdistances all opponents and potential opponents.
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