The problem for Giuliani was that no matter how ardently or expertly he allayed the concerns of conservative voters, he wasn’t ever going to be their first choice. They went for Huckabee, who had himself a nice little run for a few weeks. Meanwhile, McCain overtook Giuliani as the electable option in states like New Hampshire and Florida, and America’s mayor found himself quickly marginalized.
I’m no strategist, but it seems to me that the smart play this time, if you’re Bush or Chris Christie or Marco Rubio, is to let the other guys fight it out for Survivalist of the Year and set your sights on the party’s other, broader constituencies: the right-leaning independents and mainline conservatives who fear that a Republican nominee too easily caricatured as extreme will lead the country straight into the embrace of Hillary Clinton. If you can unify that voting bloc, more or less, and end up going one-on-one with a candidate like Paul or Walker on Super Tuesday, then you’ve got a very real path to the nomination.
Skeptics of the “be yourself” theory will hurl the two words that make every unapologetically pragmatic Republican wince: Jon Huntsman! Well, OK. I spent some time with him, too — enough to know that while Huntsman is a remarkably bright and decent guy, he had nowhere near the clarity of thought or the ability to communicate it that a Bush or a Christie does. And Huntsman, who basically landed in New Hampshire after two years in Beijing, had very little by way of a record or a political brand, which is a problem these other guys don’t have.