More on the race

by Russ Roberts on October 12, 2007

in Politics

In this recent post, I predicted that Rudy Giuliani would get the Republican nomination and that barring dramatic changes in the economic landscape or the war in Iraq, he would defeat Hillary if she gets the nomination. A number of people in the comments misinterpreted what I said or asked for clarification. Here are a few additional points.

1. I said nothing about Giuliani’s policy positions. I merely observed that his style, the way he came across as a human being on TV, dominated his opponents. This was the first debate I’d watched. It was the first time I’d seen most of these people on TV. None of them came across as well as Giuliani did. Thompson, who was making his debate debut, was charmless and looked bored. Unless he can do better, he will be a non-factor. Romney, Giuliani’s other main rival. came across as robotic and plastic, if it’s possible to do both at the same time. Someone described him to me before as charisma-free. That’s a bit strong and doesn’t quite capture what makes him less than endearing. Maybe with coaching he can get better. Maybe Fred Thompson just had a bad day.

All of the above is about the ability of a politician to connect on TV. Most people can’t. It’s a very rare skill and it’s important. It’s very important. It’s one of the main reasons that Bush was able to defeat Gore and Kerry. He was the candidate you’d rather have a beer with. The simplest way to capture this idea is charisma. Giuliani had it on camera the other day. His opponents didn’t.

On the idea/policy side, the three "major" candidates (G,R and T) are all similar. They all brag about how much they hate taxes. None of them truly believes in freedom and decentralized power. And none of them can articulate the case for economic freedom with much poetry or inspiration. So while there are some differences between them (Giuliani’s use of RICO and faith in prosecutorial power creeps me out, for example and Romney is way too cheerful about government solving this and that) they’re all going to run on a Reaganesque domestic policy platform without much likelihood of actually following through. On foreign policy, I don’t see dramatic differences. Heck, I’m not sure the differences between any of them and Hillary is that strong on foreign policy. Remember, what they say and what they do are often different. It would be tempting to say that Giuliani has a bigger potential than say Romney or Thompson to be a megalomaniac, based on his prosecutorial delight. But at this level, they’ve all got a little or a lot of that in ‘em. It’s a part of why they’re running. Maybe a big part.

The lack of true, dramatic differences (yeah, that line-item veto controversy sure was exciting wasn’t it?) is the main reason charisma matters. It’s not that voters are superficial. If the rhetorical and policy positions aren’t that different, pick the best human being, the one with the best judgment and wisdom and humanity. So voters try to get a read on the character of the person. And if one person comes as stiff or uneasy or bored or shrill or plastic and one comes across as relaxed and genuine and comfortable in his own skin, the latter gets an edge.

Bottom line–I’m not excited about any of them. And I’m not excited about any of the rhetorical skills any of them have. But I think Rudy’s going to win.

2. I predicted that Giuliani would defeat Hillary barring major changes in the economy or the war. I said her best chance of winning was if the economy tanked. I did not mean to imply that the economy was going to tank. I meant that it was the most likely way for her to win. What did I mean by tanking? A recession that shows little sign of ending quickly. So if the first two quarters of ’08 show negative growth and those reports come out close to election time and unemployment is growing steadily through next summer, I think Hillary will win. But barring that and barring a major worsening of Iraq or something else on the terrorist front, Rudy will win. And there are lots of things that could happen on the terrorist front that could help him.

3. It’s early. Things could change. The presumptive or actual front-runner doesn’t always win. I could say it will be fun to see what happens, but I have a funny feeling it won’t be.

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Lee Kelly October 12, 2007 at 11:55 am

Regarding Fred Thompson:

"It seems to me that a politician who spends most of his time sleeping would be a marked improvement over the vast majority who insist on doing something."

Tom Kelly October 12, 2007 at 12:20 pm


This is a brilliant analysis of what's really important in elections- electability.

Flash Gordon October 12, 2007 at 12:51 pm

Russ, you may want to take one other factor into your consideration. The historic voting behavior of conservative Republicans is that when disenchanted with the Republican candidate they stay home on election day.

Democrat voters don't do this. A segment of Democrat voters are motivated by their hatred of conservatives and will turn out to vote for the Democrat candidate even if they don't particularly care for her.

The numbers do not have to be large given how close presidential elections can be. In a close election, it would only take 1 million disenchanted conservatives staying home on election day to throw the election to the Democrats.

Rudy's position on abortion and guns has and will continue to alienate many conservative voters. The conventional wisdom may be that these conservatives will be so motivated to vote against Hillary they will hold their noses and go out to vote for Rudy. The problem is, conventional wisdom is often wrong. And history tells us it is wrong again this time. If you support Rudy, be ready for a nasty surprise on Wednesday morning in November, 2008.

Mark October 12, 2007 at 12:58 pm

With respect to Rudy Guiliani or any Republican candidate and the social conservatives;

Even if Rudy went to a conservative religious outing, fell to the floor, and started speaking in tongues, that would not draw 1/1000th of the conservative vote to his side as the simple words: "I am Hillary Clinton, and I accept your nomination for president."

Hillary is the best "keep the GOP coalition together" card that exists.

anonymous October 12, 2007 at 1:36 pm

I just wanted to ask Russ Roberts and Don Boudreaux a quick question. Do you guys even vote these days?

Keith October 12, 2007 at 2:21 pm

"Hillary is the best "keep the GOP coalition together" card that exists."

I agree, but I'm still not sure its enough to make me for for whomever the GOP nominates (unless its Paul).

Sam Grove October 12, 2007 at 2:26 pm

Is Russ cynical or just resigned?

Of the current crop of candidates, which would you most prefer to see in the white house?

What are you doing about it?

Kinney October 12, 2007 at 2:30 pm

In the NYTimes live blogging Dr. Baker made this remark.

"Mr. McCain is completely unaware of the Social Security projections. He asserted that it is going broke. According to the Congressional Budget Office it can pay all scheduled benefits through the year 2046 with no changes whatsoever. Even after 2046, it is projected to always be able to pay a higher inflation-adjusted benefit than what retirees receive today."

I turn 64 in 2046 so I am not as sanguine as Dr. Baker about my paying full taxes and receiving less benefits. However, my question deals with his next sentence.

Can you explain how Social Security is projected to always be able to pay a higher inflation-adjusted benefit than what retirees receive today? Are Social Security benefits scheduled to rise more than inflation now? I assume it must if we won't be able to pay full benefits but will still be able to pay more than the inflation adjusted benefits of today into perpetuity.

What is it tied to if not to inflation? Obviously not wages, which is what Dr. Baker was arguing against. But what? And what was the rational behind this when it was passed? I am really confused because I always thought that Social Security benefits were tied to inflation.

Sam Grove October 12, 2007 at 2:34 pm

Lately, when I come here, my personal info is not entered in the appropriate boxes, though I have checked "Remeber personal info?" several times. If I click "Post" without entering the info, the preview screen appears with all my personal info present.

Anybody else getting this?

Russ Roberts October 12, 2007 at 3:15 pm


I am having the same problem and I even lost a comment that I thought I had posted. It never showed up. I assume this is a typepad problem and will try and look into it.

Dave October 12, 2007 at 3:28 pm

Also, I think on your side is that the futures markets displayed on Donald Luskin's site (they're otherwise blocked) is that they have picked Hillary and Rudy as the frontrunners of their parties. However, they've also both Democrat presidents.

shawn October 12, 2007 at 7:22 pm

sam/russ….I'd suggest trying to clear out your old cookies (from this blog, if you want to get that specific), and letting a new one be written. It's probably expired, or some such, but isn't being re-written by a new one, because it "already exists".

Try posting on a different browser; I'd bet cash that it works no problem…if that's the case, it's a cookie problem, not necessarily a typepad problem (though it is typepad that's not reading its cookies correctly, if that's the case).

iamse7en October 12, 2007 at 9:06 pm

You're dead wrong. I guarantee Romney winning the nomination. He has nowhere to go but up. Guiliani, on the other hand, will go down.

outback71 October 12, 2007 at 9:07 pm

What gets lost in all the media coverage on polling is that Hillary's negatives still remain in the 47-49 range. No one has ever been elected with negatives above 40.
she has a huge upward climb no matter who wins the GOP nod.

tiger October 12, 2007 at 11:51 pm

Russ, This is exactly what I've been trying to say to my conservative friends for months now. Ideology aside, if the presidential race can be positioned with a Hillary vs. Rudy scenario then, barring an economic downturn or some serious blowback due to the Bush foreign policy (how much worse can it be anyway?) then Rudy can have a great shot at winning. Seeing Rudy up on stage directly debating Hillary will be all the convincing the 51%+ of America needs (and in the right states like Florida, California, Ohio) to make the case. Rudy is a monster point maker and isn't afraid of anything in the realm of the debate. He has principled arguments that he makes with confidence and sticks to them doggedly. Hillary dances, changes and weaves. And watching her shrieky, socialist leaning, pandering foolishness directly in contrast to Rudy's direct no BS tough leadership style will win the day for the good guys.

Flash Gordon October 13, 2007 at 1:43 am

Certainly many conservatives and Republicans will be voting for the R nominee in order to register their disgust with Hillary. But counting on that block to win the election is a mistake that ignores past voting history of Republicans in general.

There is an important block of social conservatives that are needed for any Republican to win. These are mostly people who don't pay much attention to politics until the election gets close. Right now they are not listening to any of the political news that most readers of this and other blogs are drenched in. They won't pay much attention until about the middle of October next year.

If the Republican nominee does not fire them up, they aren't going to bother voting just to stop Hillary. They rationally know that their single vote won't make any difference and come election day they will have better things to do than take off work or stand in a voting line.

The trouble with Rudy is that he loses these people on abortion and guns and a few other things. When he tries to pretend that he is really with them on those things they won't believe him. And for good reason, he will be lying to them and they aren't stupid. They will rightly perceive that he is pandering for their vote, and they won't go for it.

These are voters that will only vote for something, not against something, not even Hillary. No Republican can win without them. Rudy can't get them. Romney might be able to get them, but it"s doubtful. McCain can get them but he's in trouble with another block of R's. Thompson is the best hope.

Something else that is a problem with Rudy. Given his ego and personalty, there may be something in his background that the Hillary dirt digging machine will find to make hay with ala Bush's old drunk driving charge on the eve of the 2000 election.

TGGP October 13, 2007 at 3:15 am

Flash Gordon, it is actually the Republicans who have better turnout, whereas Democrats have always had problems in this area. Many Democrats do not own cars (living in urban areas and having little money are both factors) and do not turn out if the weather is bad. The youth turnout has always disappointed Democrats as well. Their campaigners aren't really up to snuff either. They hire people to do their campaigns, whereas Republicans rely on the same people that vote to do their campaigning. Republicans have churches where they can meet up with other members of their community and maintain ties (I'm guessing they also tend to be more family oriented and live in less-diverse and therefore more tight-knit neighborhoods). The closest Democrats have are unions, which are an ever declining portion of the workforce (at least in the private sector). The Democrats are going to take the election because the Republicans have done their damndest to discredit themselves and haven't put forth any candidate other than Ron Paul (how I wish he had a chance, but he doesn't) who clearly breaks with the failure voters see emanating from D.C and offers an inspiring vision. They just beat the dead horses of "9/11!", "MoveOn!", "Pelosi/Ted Kennedy!", "Ronald Reagan!".

vidyohs October 13, 2007 at 10:17 am

Thanks for bringing up the post info problem, I thought it was just my connection.

To answer your question about a choice of candidates, for me personally I can not see anyone in either party to get me excited in a positive way. There are some that truly scare the hell out of me, obviously Billary is the main one.

I think I'd like to try "none of the above" for four years just to see if the position is even worth filling. :-) Just leave the position vacant and let congress do their thing and the legislation stack up. if at the end of the four years the nation hasn't suffered in any way, trashbag the legislation, leave the position vacant, and pay congress critters to simply stay out of the public's way.

I guess that leaves me with the personal goal of just surviving the insanity while staying alert for the opportunity to strike some sort of blow for freedom and reason.

muirgeo October 13, 2007 at 11:44 am

Hillary is the best "keep the GOP coalition together" card that exists.

Posted by: Mark

So Hillary is scary because she may give us nationalized health care? And apparently to the average libertarian and apparently the professors here as well think that's scarier then the massive screw up that is Iraq? It's more frightening then the threat of intervention in Iran, for profit private mercenary armies, an administration/ a party with total disregard for the constitution, an administration/party clearly bent on consolidation of executive power, an administration that won't allow public oversight, a party who's core base is seriously indistinguishable from the Taliban, a party who's base believes the Earth is 6,000 years old and global warming is a hoax…? You want to vote on a party that rules on cronyism, corruption and graft because they some how are closer to your libertarian principles as they spy on you and tell you what drugs you can and can not take and who want to make medical decisions for you. You want to vote for the party that has spent something like 8 trillion of our 9 trillion dollar debt. The party that oversaw us go from the top exporting nation to the top importing nation and the precipitous drop in the value of the dollar??

Please expound upon what these libertarian principles are that sway you toward this lesser of 2 evils?

jmklein October 13, 2007 at 11:48 am

Do you believe in anything?

I mean, if you were gambling on this an amoral prediction would be the best. But this is an election and the only way to make someone win is to vote for them.

Everyone says Paul has no chance of winning, but what if everyone just went out and voted for him? Just do it people, just wake up, go the polls and do it.

Flash Gordon October 13, 2007 at 5:04 pm

TGGP: Yeah, that's in that other universe where you live. I was talking about this one here, you know, the Milky Way one.

K October 13, 2007 at 5:49 pm

Rudy seems like the only one who might actually beat Hillary.

(Hillary could beat herself. Loose lips sink ships.)

IMO Hillary can only be beaten by a rough campaigner who can debate, polarize, has a track record, and is a scrapper. Hillary is certainly like that and must be beaten on those terms.

Rudy also has at least a chance in NY. That is unusual for the Republican.

I don't think McCain has the skills, or ever did. Thompson wavers, can't organize, and has little experience or record. Romney, the next best to Rudy, has no killer instinct or focus. Huckabee makes a lot of sense; it won't matter for 2008.

I expect the meanest election since reconstruction.

Ray G October 13, 2007 at 8:33 pm

Giuliani's use of RICO and faith in prosecutorial power creeps me out

Whew! I was starting to think it was just me.

The previous thread, LowCountry had asked me why I didn't think the other candidates would also be heavy handed with their power.

Ummm. . . because Guiliani has a track record that doesn't just hint at abusive use of govt power, it is a defining mark of his character.

muirgeo October 13, 2007 at 9:53 pm

Speaking of Giuliani and the "religious" right there's nothing better then watching Sean Hannity beg and plead with James Dobson and his followers NOT to leave the party.

vidyohs October 15, 2007 at 6:18 am

I think we have discovered muirduck's problem in "life".

"there's nothing better then watching Sean Hannity beg and plead"
Posted by: muirgeo | Oct 13, 2007 9:53:35 PM

He/She doesn't have "one".

Objectivist October 15, 2007 at 6:08 pm

You forgot something, Russ. In current polls, Hillary Clinton beats Rudy by at least 10%, and gets the same electoral vote that Bill Clinton got over Dole in 1996!

Methinks October 17, 2007 at 6:53 pm

Objectivist, I'm a little wary of poll numbers – especially before the primaries.

In 2004, I was watching Sportstrade (now called Intrade) on election day. I trust the opinions of people actually putting their money where their mouth is far more than easily manipulated polls. Kerry and Bush were running close with Bush having a tiny but widening lead all day. Around 6pm, the numbers for Bush dropped sharply. I don't remember how sharply but it may have been something like going from 53% to win to 36% to win. This was all based on "exit poll" numbers reported on TV which "showed" Kerry had a significant lead. We both know how that story ended and how wide the margin was the other way.

I'm not saying that lie of an exit poll number was a full-fledged conspiracy by the left to encourage Republicans not to stop by the polls on their way home from work, but it really wouldn't take a full-fledged conspiracy to achieve such a result with this method. So, I'll take the Hitlery numbers with a grain of salt. I think Rudy has broader appeal and most conservatives I know (and I don't know that many) will vote for him just to prevent Hitlery winning.

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