Death Watch: Rudy Giuliani

Over the last few weeks we’ve been trying to calculate the candidates’ expiration dates in our Death Watch series . Tonight, two candidates are in jeopardy. We pay our pre-mortem respects to Mr. Giuliani below. See Mike Huckabee’s Death Watch here .

It may not look like it, but Rudy waged a good campaign. He was a solid debater, energetic and dogged on the stump, and was on-message most of the time. But then things soured on two fronts:

  1. The message : When Rudy was living it up front-runner-style , life was good. His national polls were up in the 40s , the money was rolling in, and with Clinton leading nationally, name-recognition seemed to be the overriding narrative of this election. But once voters actually listened to what Giuliani was saying, the poll numbers sagged. If Rudy’s failure has told us anything, it’s that most Americans just aren’t afraid anymore . Giuliani spread the they’re-going-to-get-us gospel very successfully, but New Hampshire voters in particular just didn’t buy it. When that happened, Giuliani pulled out of New Hampshire—he had already pulled out of the rest—and went to Florida to try his luck there. It seems they don’t want a 9/11 candidate either.
  2. The primary calendar : Originally, Giuliani’s camp thought that the compressed schedule would help them lay low for a month and then reemerge with a head-start in Florida and a natural constituency in a handful of Feb. 5 states. But they waited one primary too long. In hindsight, Rudy Giuliani needed to win South Carolina just as badly as Fred Thompson did. The only problem: Rudy didn’t have a shot in hell, and he knew it. So he pushed his last stand back to Florida, where he could schmooze with Yankee fans and talk about NASCAR all day. But by the time today’s ballot rolled around, the party coalesced around two guys they don’t really like, but whom they like more than the pro-choice, baseball-polygamist , drag-king Giuliani.  

Rudy has intimated that he’ll flee the scene after what’s probably going to be a bloody affair tonight. His aides say they’ll re-evaluate the campaign’s status Wednesday morning, but he’ll probably drop out to avoid embarrassment in the Northeast, where John McCain has eclipsed him recently. There isn’t much chance Rudy will stay in; run a regional Feb. 5 campaign in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut; and wreak utter havoc. He’s buddies with McCain, who stuck up for him at the last debate , and wouldn’t want to do anything to help Mitt Romney win the nomination.

So, after tonight, Rudy’s campaign will probably become a mere memory from the 2008 election. This morning, while flying out of Washington, D.C., a newsstand in the airport was selling candidate-themed t-shirts. There was Rudy, staring at me with the White House behind him. I laughed as I realized that this t-shirt was as close as he was ever going to get.