In cards, you play the hand you're dealt. But in politics, you decide whether to play the hand -- or whether to bluff -- and play another hand ... that you invented. While many of the players in the GOP presidential primary are attempting political prestidigitation, Rudy Giuliani has chosen to play the same hand he's been playing for the last twenty years.
On last night's Hannity & Colmes, Giuliani chose not to run away from his socially liberal record. He admitted that he was Pro-Choice. And while he did qualify it with the perfuctory point that he personally hates abortions -- and though he did change the subject by talking about the types of judges he would appoint (he likes judges who would interpret the Constitution, of course) -- he did not backpedal on the fact that he is Pro-Choice.
Whether this strategic decision was based on the fact that he is, by nature, honest and frank -- or a Machiavellian acceptance that he could not, at this point, change his image (even if he wanted to) -- there are two reasons this strategy just may work:
1. Values voters may value Rudy's honesty and frankness -- especially when they see other candidates' (who haven't always shared their values) obvious attempts to pander to them.
2. If voters can be persuaded that this election isn't about social issues -- but about electing a proven "adult" leader who can handle the serious responsibilities of governance -- then he has a shot.
And because he is wisely addressing the social issues head-on, I don't believe Rudy Giuliani's greatest danger will be his past peccadilloes or his socially liberal stances (though they will be brought up).
Instead, Rudy's greatest danger may lie in the weakest part of his strongest argument. Just as John Kerry was vulnerable in defending his strength (his military service), Rudy's greatest vulnerability may be in defending his greatest strength -- 9-11.
There are, perhaps, three important non-social issues he will have to answer:
-After 9-11, Rudy attempted to find ways to remain in power longer than his term would allow. This may strike some voters as imperious or dictatorial.
- Rudy recommended now disgraced friend Bernard Kerik to replace Tom Ridge as Secretary of Homeland Security. This may serve as an example of extremely poor judgment, which may lead to more questions about his tenure as Mayor.
- And as National Journal's Chuck Todd recently said on CSPAN's Washington Journal, "... Nobody's made more money off 9-11 than Rudy Giuliani." His opponents may use this money as a way to slowly begin undermining his credibility on the issue.
Interestingly, none of these issues would deter Giuliani from becoming "America's Mayor" and fading off into the sunset as a celebrated hero of 9-11. But, with opponents desperate to win the GOP nomination, each of these issues has the potential of derailing his presidential ambitions.
It's going to be a very tough race, but Rudy' has been leading in the polls for a long time. He will need that popularity to sustain him when the attacks start coming.