The Politico’s Ben Smith and David Paul Kuhn attempt the first major media post-mortem of the Rudy Giuliani campaign, and wind up revealing more about the media than the campaign. They claim the loss demonstrates the end of 9/11 politics, but that analysis misses a lot about what went right in the Giuliani campaign. It misses because the media never bothered to report anything beyond the superficial for more than a year:
Rudy Giuliani’s distant third-place finish in Florida may put an end to his bid for president, and it seems also to mark the beginning of the end of a period in Republican politics that began on Sept. 11, 2001.
Giuliani’s national celebrity was based on his steady, comforting appearance in Americans’ living rooms amid the terrorist attacks, and his campaign for president never found a message beyond that moment.
The emotional connection he forged that day, it seems, has proved politically worthless. After months of wonder that the former mayor seemed to have no ceiling to his support, he turned out to have no floor, trading fourth-place finishes with Ron Paul, a little-known Texas congressman.
“There’s a paradox for Rudy,” said former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, who was a member of the 9/11 Commission. “One of the things he did very well on 9/11 was say, ‘We’ve got to get back to normal.’ And that’s what’s happened. We’ve gotten back to normal.”
Those of us who have followed the campaign know the reasons behind the failure had nothing to do with 9/11 — because the campaign itself mostly avoided referencing it. The campaign lost its footing when the press began hyperventilating about a “scandal” from six years ago that even the New York Times later admitted was old news and represented no illegal conduct. It followed that with a poor decision to stop competing in the early states and allow the media to focus so much on his rivals that Giuliani became the Forgotten Man.
Only one televised ad featured 9/11, and then in the context of how Giuliani saw the city respond, not himself. Otherwise, outside of the glaring strategic error, Giuliani put together one of the most impressive teams of advisers ever seen in a presidential campaign. He had an administration ready to go on the Wednesday after the general election, a staff led by such notables as Charles Hill, Steve Forbes, Ted Olson, and many others.
Did the media report on this? No. They preferred to focus on the police-escort story from almost a decade ago, and to tie Rudy to 9/11 long after it became clear that his campaign wanted to minimize it as a theme.
Rudy has only himself to blame for losing the media’s focus over the last several weeks. However, the media has some introspection to do as well for having missed the positives of the Giuliani campaign, especially in its collection of poweful, talented thinkers.