The aborted terror plot to kill American soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey reminds us all of the imminent threat of attack in today's dangerous world. It will remind Republican primary voters that terrorism, and our response to it, is still the issue of the day.
After the Republican presidential debate, Rudy Giuliani was clearly on the defensive, trying to compensate for his pathetic "that would be OK" answer to questions about the possible overruling of Roe v. Wade. His passivity and seeming acquiescence in either a pro-life or pro-choice outcome appeased none of the partisans on either side of the abortion issue. When he finally settled on a concise and forceful restatement of his basic pro-choice principles, he stood out in stark contrast to the other nine pro-life candidates.
But after Fort Dix, the momentum is once again going to shift. Americans realize the narrow escape they have had and understand the importance of having a proven and tested anti-terror leader, as their candidate in the November, 2008 elections.
Rudy's advantage will be further reinforced by Hillary's upward movement in the polls. After three months of going down in the polls, she has suddenly reversed field and gained decisively on Obama and Edwards. The closer Hillary gets to the Democratic nomination, the more decisive Rudy's claim on the GOP nod becomes since he may be the only candidate who can stop Hillary from winning.
Hillary' s surge after the debate is likely due to what she once described as "the talking dog syndrome." In her own words, in her book Living History, she writes:
"Some people are still amazed that any woman (this includes Governors' wives, corporate CEOs, sports stars and rock singers) can hold her own under pressure and be articulate and knowledgeable. The dog can talk! In fact, it's often an advantage if people you hope to persuade underestimate you at first."
Later in her book, recounting her testimony for health care reform before a Congressional committee, she attributes many of the accolades that greeted her performance as "just the latest example of 'the talking dog syndrome' which I had learned about as first lady of Arkansas." She goes on to quote Dr. Samuel Johnson's biographer, Boswell, saying "Sir, a woman preaching is like a dog's walking on its hind legs. It is not done we ll; but you are surprised to find it done at all."
Now the "talking dog syndrome" is working to her advantage on a national stage.
Standing up there with five business suits, Hillary's competent, capable, articulate, and knowledgeable performance impressed many voters who had not seen her in such a long form program before. The debate came at a time when the importance of having a pro-choice woman as their nominee was underscored to feminist Democrats by the Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on partial birth abortion. Together with a strong antiwar statement late last week, Hillary harvested a big gain in the polls.
All of these developments give Rudy Giuliani a shot in the arm. His focus on security issues, bolstered by his record at reducing crime in New York, makes him the natural beneficiary.
Giuliani's political fortunes will fluctuate in direct relation to American perceptions of the dangers posed by terrorism. When we relax, Rudy will slip. When we are reminded of the reality we face, he will rise. Like Bush in 2004, terrorism is his issue and the greater our sense of threat, the more we will turn to him.
But when relaxed, Republican primary voters will return to the social themes that auger ill for Rudy. His "that would be OK" answer in the debate was ridiculously passive. His vigorous defense of the pro-choice position was courageous but there is no way the issue will help him win.
Want to know who will win the Republican nomination? Tell us which issue will be paramount and we'll tell you!