Giuliani’s Tipping Point

John Hanlon
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Posted: Mar 24, 2007 12:00 AM
Giuliani’s Tipping Point

In his 2000 bestselling book The Tipping Point: How Little Things can make a big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell explores the idea of 'the tipping point,' the moment or time period when an item, an idea, a strategy or a person (or anything for that matter) changes from being just a 'product' into a cultural phenomenon. For example, the crackdown on quality of life crimes in New York City under Giuliani led to an overall 'crime tipping point' in that city where the crime rate went from a high point to an extremely low point in a short period of time, an amazing feat by any measure.

Unfortunately, I think the opposite effect of the tipping point (something akin to a Tour de France bicyclist hitting a brick wall at his fastest pace or a runner losing steam at the halfway point of a race) is currently on display in Giuliani’s 2008 political campaign as the former Mayor of New York is peaking ten months before the first primary votes are cast.

A lot of pundits are going to disagree with me on this but Giuliani’s current momentum is not a good thing for his campaign, especially ten months before anyone starts voting. Giuliani already has the momentum of a bicyclist at top speed in the race but it can not possibly last and the reason why goes back to Gladwell's whole philosophy of the tipping point.

In his book, Malcolm Gladwell writes about the dramatic crime rate change in New York City that happened under America's Mayor. This occurred, Gladwell argues, for several reasons but one of the main reasons behind it was Rudy Giuliani's focus and prosecution of quality of life crimes at the lowest level in the city. As mayor, Giuliani started aggressively going after those responsible for quality of life crimes, such as spraying graffiti and public drunkedness. After this crackdown began, the number of smaller crimes in the city began to decrease and the momentum began building up. With that momentum building, the number of larger crimes began to decrease and crime in the city tipped -- and suddenly, New York City had become much safer than it had been in years.

This was one of the strongest examples of Gladwell’s book (which I strongly recommend, by the way) and it shows how one small idea transformed an entire city.

Going back to Rudy Giuliani's 2008 presidential campaign, it is hard to imagine Giuliani losing all of his current momentum and strength right now. However, unlike what happened in New York City, Giuliani is not slowly building momentum like a bicyclist starting the race anymore…right now, Giuliani is at the head of the race bicycling much faster than anyone else in the competition. Giuliani seems to have taken advantage of McCain's weaker standing in the polls and has maintained a level of 'electability,' which Republicans are looking for against Hillary Clinton and both of those subjects have led to Giuliani's upturn in the polls. The problem is that this momentum is too much for any candidate to have right now (in March of 2007) and soon enough, Giuliani is going to slam into a brick wall because of it.

As an example of this great momentum Giuliani has going for him, recent poll numbers have shown Giuliani rapidly expanding his lead. The latest poll from CNN conducted between March 9th and 11th has the former mayor of New York with the support of 34% of Republicans polled while McCain only has the support of 18% of the Republicans (and he’s in second place!). Meanwhile, the latest poll from the website Rasmussen Reports currently has 33% percent of Republican support behind Giuliani and only 15% of support behind McCain (poll conducted between March 12 and March 15th). Those two polls have Giuliani up by 16% and 18% respectively, an astounding gap with so many candidates in the field and a gap that seems to be expanding with every new poll between these two candidates.

This momentum can not possibly continue forever for Giuliani especially with all of the negative press about him and his extremely liberal stances on social issues. I recognize that many conservatives are attracted to him for his 'electability' and that is why his numbers keep going up but eventually, Giuliani is going to hit his tipping point and the momentum is going to crash. There is no way that Giuliani's numbers are going to keep like this throughout the summer, let alone into next year.

Howard Dean, the current Chairman of the Democratic Party, experienced both types of tipping points in his 2004 presidential campaign. Using the internet at a very early stage and creating a massive grassroots effort, Howard Dean's campaign tipped early and he went from being a second-tier candidate to the frontrunner in late 2003. His momentum continued to build until late December/ early January when his frontrunner status crashed and his campaign tipped the other way and he went from being the frontrunner to the candidate who lost to Kerry and Edwards in the Iowa caucuses.

In Giuliani's case, he already has a lot of momentum going for him and he is either at his peak or very close to it right now (he is getting to the point where the only place he can go is down). The higher Giuliani gets, the more media attention and scrutiny he gets, the more negative publicity he gets and the closer he comes to his tipping point…

The question is, after his tipping point-- after his bicycle crashes into a wall -- will Giuliani have enough of a chance and enough time to rebuild his momentum to win in next year's primary? Or, when his momentum comes to a crashing halt, who else will be there to pick it up?