January 2, 2007


Earlier today, the New York Daily News was given a 140-page internal strategy assessment of the Guiliani candidacy. The Daily News will not identify who leaked this notebook beyond saying it is a person connected to one of Guiliani's potential rivals. Whether that's a Republican or a Democrat is unclear; however, Guiliani's very early polling numbers seem to be establishing him as the guy to beat, so I'm thinking it's intramural jockeying for position rather than a pre-emptive strike a la Gray Davis' 2002 primary attack on Richard Riordan coming from a Democrat. Whether this is traceable to someone, and whether that someone turns out to be John McCain or Mitt Romney, may never be known.

Both the Daily News and the New York Times suggest that this is a significant setback to the campaign. I'm not so sure about that. It's embarrassing, to be sure, but it seems that there's little in the document that would surprise anyone who had thoughtfully considered the issues surrounding a Guiliani campaign. There are ambitious fundraising goals, which is pretty much mandatory if you're going to take a serious shot at the White House; there are considerations about potential vulnerabilities and anticipations of what form attacks on those vulnerable areas might take; and there is the issue of how the document got out to the public at all, which is egg on Guiliani's face because he has marketed himself as having some expertise on security issues.

There are some ideas about how to raise money and some mention of labels for big fund-raisers which sound somewhat crass. But again, none of this is any different than anything any other politician has done, is doing, or will have to do in order to credibly run for President.

Finally, there is vacillation about Guiliani running or maintaining his current position, splitting his professional time between his security and leadership consulting firm, his law practice, and his association with an investment brokerage. Personally, I like that. It underlines that Rudy would indeed be making something of a personal sacrifice (perhaps one that he would see as a net gain, but still giving up something) if he were to become President. Someone answering the call to public service should do so reluctantly -- this burnishes rather than detracts from the image of a "citizen-politician" rather than a member of the political class, which Rudy as well as his adversaries for the Presidency would all like to bear.

So the issue is more the existence of the leak than anything else. But a pre-Presidential campaign is not quite the same thing as maintaining national security. Certainly, this document should not have been leaked in an ideal world. According to Guiliani's spokeswoman (reported in the Times), there may not have been a lot that could have been done to prevent it.

It might seem that a problem with this document is that it existed to be leaked in the first place, but a successful Presidential campaign is a venture of daunting scope and planning documents simply have to exist. Campaigns run "opposition research" on their own candidates all the time, and the musings about some of Guiliani's potential vulnerabilities is nothing different than that. I don't know whether the form of this document was such that it was unusually dense or insightful as compared with the kinds of research and strategizing that other politicians do, but at worst, this was a case of an eager and inexperienced assistant to the campaign effort (and not the candidate himself) putting down more in writing than was strictly prudent.

A lot of the information in the leaked notebook is out of date, too -- for instance, it refers to several potential fundraisers who have declared their support for McCain rather than Guiliani.

No, the only real issue is a little bit of chipping away at the illusion that Guiliani deferred a decision to run until very recently. After all, Guiliani said all the right coy things about deferring a decision to run for President until after the 2006 elections but some of the notations on the document indicate that people very close to Guiliani were using it before the election. Which is no great surprise to anyone, I should think -- virtually all of the favored contenders (Romney, McCain, Clinton, and Obama) have not yet declared their intentions to run yet.

Even with this revelation that he and the people closest to him have really thought about the candidacy, Guiliani is still in the "exploratory" phase, which is to say he's testing the waters to see if he can raise enough money. Of the "big" names for 2008, only John Edwards has declared his candidacy. But the aforementioned contenders -- Romney, McCain, Clinton, and Obama -- would all be fools of tremendous magnitude to not have gathered the same information and begun to engage in the same kind of strategizing that the Guiliani document represents. They've just been fortunate enough to not have had a dirty trick like this played on them at such an early date.

So I'm not so inclined to be particularly upset about the leak. Of course, you don't want to let the other guy into your kitchen, ever. So this is not a good thing for Guiliani fans. But it's coming very early in the process. If this is the biggest problem the Guiliani campaign faces between now and November 4, 2008, it'll be President Rudy taking the oath in 2009 for sure.

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