THE BLOG
04/10/2007 03:37 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

When Giuliani Will Be In Trouble

Marc Ambinder of Hotline On Call addresses John Podhoretz's NY Post piece, wherein J-Pod gets antsy in his pantsy about Giuliani blowing his chances with conservative Republican voters by neglecting his leadership credentials. Ambinder writes:

Giuliani's judgment about national security matters is central to his identity as a leader. Giuliani's leadership qualities are his most important attribute.

The article suggests and the unnamed White House officials who spoke to Solomon and Baker seem to suggest that Giuliani's first national-level homeland security decision -- he was asked to recommend the person in charge of protecting the homeland -- turned out to be a disastrous misjudgment.

Giuliani's "weaknesses" on cultural issues are overdetermined; if his strengths are called into question, John, then you can panic.

I think Ambinder is right to slow down fears of Giuliani "fly[ing] off a cliff." Giuliani's appeal does not begin with his stances on social issues. Conservative voters know this about him (though not as much now as they will in six months) and aren't forming their opinions of him on cultural issues. His reputation as a sound crisis manager with confidence on national security is. But the Bernard Kerik problem is one which undermines his national security credibility; he blew it by endorsing someone who he knew had ethical problems and ties to the mafia.

Giuliani's looming trouble will materialize around what the Republican electorate wants in a nominee this cycle. In the past solid social conservative credentials were requisite: oppose Roe v. Wade, oppose stem cell research, oppose gay marriage, and so on. Those were the issues used to bridge between Republican candidates and the social conservative base. These issues were also used to wedge social conservative, low-income voters away from the Democratic Party, where they might be more naturally aligned on economic issues.

But this election cycle may well be different from those of recent memory. The bridge/wedge issue that Republicans look for to turn out their voters -- or alternatively, the issue that Republican voters will be making their decision on -- is more likely to be security than culture war issues. As Ambinder notes, Giuliani will be in trouble when he loses traction on security. The Bernard Kerik scandals could be a harbinger of how Giuliani will lose credibility on national security.

Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson offer GOP base voters big name recognition and old-school conservative credentials. They will be top-tier candidates if they choose to enter the race. They will likely challenge Mitt Romney for social conservative votes. But that support base will be more plastic than usual if the issues voters are deciding on are ones pertaining to national security (Iraq, terrorism, Iran) than conservative social values.

As the direction of the conservative electorate heads more towards security issues, other leading Republican candidates will take more serious swipes at Giuliani's experience and record on national security issues. Kerik's name will come up repeatedly and will be used to undermine "his most important attribute." The success of their attacks on Giuliani around Kerik and 9/11-related failures will determine the extent to which Podhoretz actually has to be worried about Giuliani flying off a cliff.

Matt regularly blogs on the Republican presidential primary at The Right's Field.