As Romney rises, McCain fades, and Big Fred gets ready to enter, the latest Rasmussen numbers –useful only for momentum charting as they don’t poll the key early primary states specifically– are Giuliani 25% (-1), Romney 16% (+1), McCain 15% (-3), Thompson 12% (-2).
I wrote at length about McCain’s weaknesses and Romney’s strengths in my book, but also about why Rudy would be Romney’s principal opponent for the GOP nomination. Those passages are neatly summed up in a few lines in today’s New York Times’ profile of Rudy on the stump as summer opens:
In Tuscaloosa, a county chairman spoke of his anxiety that day, and how listening to the mayor comforted him. In Atlanta, Debbie Lange said she was no rock-hard Republican. But her adult child lived in Washington. If she pulls the lever for Mr. Giuliani, hers would be a premonitory vote.
“We haven’t seen the last of all the horrible things that could happen to us,” she said, her voice becoming a whisper. “I want someone who could look the worst in the face when it happens.”
This realism about the next decade is very much alive within large numbers of Americans, and it is what secures Rudy’s position at the top of the national polls and which presents the greatest challenge to Romney and eventually Thompson –they have to persuade the security-conscious voter that they are at least as reliable as Rudy in a crisis. If the country is struck a blow even greater than 9/11 –and many of us think such an event is inevitable– will Romney or Thompson be able to meet or exceed Rudy’s almost certain-to-be ferocious response to our enemy abroad and vigorous repair of the damage at home?
Romney is slowly but surely making that sale to voters eager to have both Rudy’s resolve and a greater compatibility on other issues. Thompson may yet be able to make the same appeal, but his Achilles’ heel will be his time in the United States Senate which was not marked by any great and passionate stand on a security-related issue.
Now the immigration bill has provided the perfect occasion for the GOP’s top three candidates to illustrate their seriousness about security in a world defined by the jihadist threat. (See this Wall Street Journal article,“Mideast Militants Gain Footholds: Lebanon Standoff Shows Spread Of al Qaeda-Styke Extremism,” from this morning on the spread of the threat through many countries –subscription required.) Fred, Mitt and Rudy have all blasted the bill, but each should produce a specific indictment of McCain-Kennedy 2.0 that centers on the bill’s utter refusal to recognize the new world in which we operate. It isn’t just a bill to regularize millions of Spanish speaking economic immigrants from Mexico and Central America’s poorest regions.
It is also a bill to regularize hundreds of thousands if not millions of visas jumpers and illegal border-crossers who began their trek in countries that nest significant jihadist networks. Focusing Americans on the problem this presents, and doing so in a way that avoids even remote echoes of nativism while preserving the candor that seriousness permits and indeed obliges will establish these candidates are ready to lead in the post-Bush era. The bill completely fails to address huge gaps in our defense at the borders and entry points across the country and threatens to overwhelm an already heavily burdened security system with tens of millions of new obligations without any sort of manpower or funding plus-up.
I wrote on the national security aspects of the immigration bill here, here and here and will return to it in future posts and on tomorrow’s show and all of this and next week, through the vote in the Senate. (Carol Platt Liebau sits in for me today, and will also be focusing on the immigration bill. Be sure to tune into to hear how Barak Obama’s law school pal –yes, that’s Carol– analyzes the bill.) Without major changes that reflect the national security flaws in the bill, I can’t imagine senators committed to the nation’s fdefense voting for it, changes which I have detailed elsewhere.
What Debbie Lange was saying about Rudy is applicable to the immigration bill debate. We haven’t seen the last of the horrible things that will happen to us, and the lens through which the bill must be analyzed is whether its provisions makes those horrible things fewer, farther apart, and less lethal, or whether it brings them closer and potentially more lethal. The GOP’s big three will gain great respect if they speak carefully but pointedly on these issues, and not just among Republicans but also among independents and Democrats who understand the world in which we live.