ST. PAUL — Less than a year ago, Rudy Giuliani was leading in national polls for the Republican presidential nomination, but last night, he was making the case for the man who was in a distant third place at the time — John McCain.
When we last saw Giuliani on the national scene, his supposed “firewall” in Florida had collapsed, forcing him to abandon his once promising run for the White House. But tonight, he brought the house down with a prosecutorial dissection of Barack Obama’s unreadiness to be president by contrasting his lack of record with the experience of McCain.
Liberated from the burden of trying to convince reluctant conservatives to get behind his candidacy, Giuliani was at his best, using mockery to expose Obama’s vulnerabilities.
“He worked as a community organizer,” Giuliani said to chuckles, “and immersed himself in Chicago machine politics. Then he ran for the state legislature — where nearly 130 times he was unable to make a decision yes or no. He simply voted ‘present.’ As Mayor of New York City, I never got a chance to vote ‘present.’ And you know, when you’re President of the United States, you can’t just vote ‘present.’ You must make decisions.”
He said, “Barack Obama has never led anything,” adding for effect, “Nothing. Nada.”
He also riffed off of Obama’s favorite slogans by noting that “[c]hange is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy.”
The parade also featured a several of this year’s other also-rans, with Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney preceding Giuliani on stage.
Huckabee and Romney had different tasks. While Giuliani is unlikely to seek the presidency again given that this was the best shot he had at the Republican nomination, Huckabee and Romney are likely to extend their bitter rivalry into the next open election cycle.
If he’s to have any appeal beyond the strong support he enjoys from the evangelical base, Huckabee will have to come across as more mainstream and win over skeptical economic and national security conservatives, which will not be an easy task.
He picked up where he left off in the primaries, in which he appealed to blue collar workers, by speaking of families struggling to pay gas prices and keep their homes and his own working class upbringing.
In a nod to limited government conservatives, Huckabee said that, “John McCain doesn’t want the kind of change that allows the government to reach deeper into your paycheck and pick your doctor, your child’s school, or even the kind of car you drive or how much you inflate the tires.”
He also flashed his sense of humor, saying that Sarah Palin, “got more votes running for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska than Joe Biden got running for President of the United States.”
During his pugnacious speech, Romney declared, “We need change all right — change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington!” He blasted “timid, liberal empty gestures” with regard to Russia and China and jibed, “I have one more recommendation for energy conservation — let’s keep Al Gore’s private jet on the ground.”
But his speech was also a continuation of his case in the primaries that he was the candidate who best represented the three-legged stool of social, economic, and national security conservatives.
“America cannot long lead the family of nations if we fail the family here at home,” he said.
Speaking as a successful businessman, he said that, “America is strong because of the ingenuity and entrepreneurship and hard work of the American people.”
He also blasted liberals for failing to recognize “the threat from radical, violent Jihad.”
Romney will have a lot going for him the next time around. He’ll begin with much stronger name recognition, have more years of distance from his numerous policy flip flops, and he’ll benefit from the Republican tendency to nominate the candidate whose turn it is.
But if the reaction to last night’s speeches inside the Xcel Energy Center is any indication, both Huckabee and Romney will have their work cut out for them the next time around. It seems that the Republican Party has found a favorite daughter in their newly minted vice-presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.