Rudy’s Gamble

This election cycle has seen its conventional wisdombonfires. Hillary’s inevitability: gone. Obama’s insurmountable lead in New Hampshire: gone.McCain’s summer of death: long gone. But the most brazen assault on the mostconventional wisdom of all—Giuliani’s decision to neglect the earlystates—has failed miserably.

There were moments when the gamble didn’t seem insane. Atone point, Rudy commanded a strong lead nationally and in Florida, which he called his ” firewall .”After Huckabee surged last minute and won Iowa, anything was possible. McCain’s win inNew Hampshire and Romney’s victory in Michigan didn’t exactlydiscredit Giuliani’s strategy either. As Slate ’s John Dickerson wrote at the time, “the GOP primaryis starting to look like a Pee Wee soccer tournament: Everyone gets a trophy!”Of course Rudy would get his!

The theory started to crack after Michigan,when Giuliani’s numbers began sliding nationally and in Florida. By the time both Romney and McCainsnapped up two more trophies, Rudy was all but forgotten. His “slow and steadywins the race” philosophy crumbled when it turned out he was actually justslow.  

So does this reaffirm the rule that you have to win Iowa or New Hampshire to win the nomination? Or was this aworthwhile gamble that didn’t pan out? I’d argue the former. If there was ayear to take the risk, it was this one—the chaotic nature of the contestappeared to reward patience. And if there was a person who could pull it off,it was Rudy. He had the national stature to survive without boosts from theearliest states, and Floridais big enough that a win there would have reset the game. All the pieces werethere. People are now saying that Rudy did poorly in Florida because he spent so much time there. Either that or, much as we hate to admit it, theconventional wisdom was correct.