It’s taken me a while, but I think I finally understand Rudy 2008. For the last year or so, everyone I know has assumed that Rudy would implode once Southern conservatives got a good look at his actual positions on social issues. Or the cross-dressing video Rudy shot with Donald Trump.
But that implosion has not come. Yes, Thompson’s balloon momentarily crowded Rudy’s, but this cycle’s odd physics have reasserted themselves, and Rudy is again the clear frontrunner.
Conventional wisdom says this phenomenon is attributable to 9/11, first and last. And while I think that’s to understate Giuliani’s attractions to GOP voters as a standard-issue law-and-order Republican, certainly 9/11 is at the heart of the matter.
But in order to really comprehend the situation, you need to think of 9/11 not simply as a brand that the GOP wants desperately to retain. No, brands can be bought and sold, pumped or debased. They are human constructs.
In this case, it makes much more sense to think of 9/11 as a uniquely American mythic event, one that brought into being a uniquely American twenty-first century monarchy.
Certainly George Bush has used 9/11 to drive his borrowed vision of a Unitary Executive, a Democratic ruler who can wield power more or less in the fashion of a sovereign.
And this is the reason, finally, that Democrats have been unable to put a period to any of the defining post 9/11 power-grabs: even at 24% in the polls, George Bush is still viewed by Americans as the rightful inheritor of the mythic power of 9/11.
But think about what the coming election means. Suddenly the President might well be someone with no discernible, genuine, palpable connection to the Fall of the Twin Towers, for the first time in 8 years.
At that point, a President Romney or a President Edwards might invoke the attacks, and no doubt often would, but such a President would be vulnerable to constant criticism by others with better and stronger connections: 9/11 widows, or a rival like Giuliani, say.
It would be a lot like England when the Stuarts were forced off the throne. Suddenly there were very basic questions of legitimacy, bloody questions. Suddenly power seemed like something over which humans squabbled, rather than something that the Divine bestowed.
All of which is to say that the GOP has no choice but to install Rudy Giuliani on the 2008 ticket. His name doesn’t need to be listed first, but it must be listed if the Republican party is to retain its almost visceral, quasi-divine connection to the events of 9/11.
Without Rudy, they are simply one of two parties vying for power. With Rudy, the GOP is the House of War on Terror, with a legitimate prince either ready to take the throne, or waiting in the wings.
It is a principle as close to the Divine Right of Kings as we are likely to see in America.
Don’t think Rudy doesn’t understand all of this. He campaigns like an arrogant prick; if he realizes he can’t escape a blunder, a Kerik or a staged cellphone call, he admits it and all but laughs in the questioner’s face.
He acts, that is to say, like an Heir Apparent because his every political sense tells him that an Heir Apparent is exactly what his party wants and must have.
In that sense, when Democrats attack Rudy for his authoritarian tendencies and monumental ego, they do Rudy’s work for him: they prove to the world that he thinks of himself as King Shit, and of course he does. And he wants it known.
One last implication to this basic idea. Democrats understand that 9/11 will again be the driving psychological principle in the coming election, and already very sophisticated campaigns are underway to sever or drastically refashion Rudy’s connection to that myth.
But it only takes a few seconds to realize that any attempt to attack Giuliani on those mythic grounds, no matter how fact-based, no matter how incontrovertible, will only cement Rudy’s position on the ticket, because to drop him from consideration would be to hand Democrats de facto control over the 9/11 myth itself.
Another factor to keep in mind: Hillary has her own pretensions to the 9/11 throne. She was the junior Senator from New York during the attacks; she went quickly to Ground Zero; she secured vast amounts of rebuilding funds from the White House.
Hillary has yet to really assert these connections, but rest assured they will become very familiar if Clinton gets the nomination, and particularly if Rudy is not, for some reason, on the opposing ticket.
So Republicans are not simply looking at losing the Throne if they reject a pro-gay rights, pro-Choice New York Mayor, they’re also looking at allowing a genuine Pretender to assume it.
In short, get used to Rudy. His spot on the ticket is secure. Whether his name comes first or second on the bumper stickers is of little consequence.
The line of 9/11 succession will have been duly preserved.