What does it say about the state of our democracy that Andrew Giuliani – former professional golfer, Trump factotum and son of the man formerly known as ‘America’s mayor’ – could eventually become the Republican candidate for governor of New York?
I wrote about young Giuliani as a goof a year ago, shortly after he announced he was running in the June 28 GOP primary. I described it as an “empty suit” in a column about unqualified candidates. Honestly, it never occurred to me that he would be taken seriously.
But then I woke up one recent morning to find that a poll had him up five points with just a month to go, ahead of the best-funded four-term congressman who was endorsed by the organization of the State GOP. and other more qualified candidates. Granted, there have also been polls that show the race is closer, but I’m still in shock: how can that even be within the realm of possibility?
Nicholas Goldberg was the editorial page editor for 11 years and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and the Sunday Opinion section.
Giuliani’s resume is as thin as wallpaper. So thin that he still touts his undergraduate honors on his Giuliani-for-Governor website. And his post-graduate internships. And he notes that he played professional golf for seven years.
This is how he caught the attention of his father’s old friend, Donald Trump.
Andrew Giuliani and Trump have been golf buddies ever since; and in 2017, the president offered Giuliani what appears to have been his first real job — in the White House. His main responsibility, apparently, was to act as a liaison with visiting sports teams. Then (“after having dinner at Mar-A-Lago with Rudy Giuliani,” according to Axios), Trump gave the son the title “Special Assistant to the President.”
Giuliani says on his website that as a staffer he helped Trump “develop policy,” including the 2017 tax cuts. But a former White House reporter I spoke to told me that Andrew was just a “sycophant”, a guy Trump liked to play golf with. The reporter added: “I don’t recall him ever being involved in anything serious.”
Now — having never been a candidate for mayor or legislature or city council or school board — Giuliani, 36, is in the running to lead a state government with several hundred thousand staff and a budget. more than $200 billion annually.
It is highly unlikely that Giuliani will become governor. For one thing, he might very well not win the primary. And even if he does, he’ll probably lose in November. The last time a Republican was elected governor of New York was in 2002. The road is not easy for a candidate who mocks leftists and socialists, hides mandates, the AOC and the president Biden. (“Does he even know he’s president of the United States?” the Washington Post quoted Giuliani as echoing his golf partner.)
But it’s not impossible either. Not these days.
So how come someone like Giuliani has a chance of winning?
Nepotism, of course!
Being the son of a well-known politician like Rudy Giuliani of course gives you jobs, connections, access to donors, a first introduction to the business – all the things Andrew Giuliani means when he says being a politician is “in my DNA”. .”
But there is more than that.
Academics — and certainly political strategists — have long known that name recognition (known by some as “brand advantage”) gives politicians a “substantial electoral advantage,” as one study concluded. . Moreover, research has shown that this benefit can be transferred from parents to their children and other relatives. If you call yourself George Bush like your father, or if you share the Kennedy surname with your more famous uncles, aunts and cousins, you effectively inherit some of their political advantages.
Why? Well, the more charitable analysis is that this is a “heuristic” for voters trying to decide among candidates. In the absence of information about the candidate’s platform or political plans, people look for shortcuts. Voters can choose based on a candidate’s party affiliation or ethnicity. Or because they recognize a familiar surname: I liked JFK and RFK; I guess I’ll probably like their brother Teddy or their nephew Patrick too.
(It’s even worked well for people who share famous names coincidentally — an unrelated Al Gore, for example, won a Democratic US Senate primary in Mississippi in 2010; he lost in the general election.)
The least charitable explanation for brand advantage in politics is that people blindly and lazily vote for names they recognize. It’s sad, but apparently true. This has to do with what in social psychology is called the “mere exposure effect” or the “familiarity principle”. In other words, if I recognize your name, I’m more likely to vote for you even though I don’t know anything about you.
Familiarity apparently does not breed contempt.
An interesting wrinkle here is that Andrew Giuliani is trying to capitalize on a tarnished brand. His father, Rudy – Andrew’s only real connection to the voters – is best known these days for his melting mascara, his press conference next to the sex shop, his maneuvers in Ukraine, the FBI raid on his home and his office, and his lies about the 2020 election only for his glory days as mayor of New York.
But maybe it’s just me. Maybe Republicans still love Rudy Giuliani for all the reasons I can’t stand him.
Ultimately, the question is whether New Yorkers want to place the inexperienced, untested son of their former mayor in a very serious and very powerful job – a job that propelled four occupiers (including two Roosevelts) to the presidency.
Of course, everyone has the right to run, including Andrew Giuliani. But not everyone has the right to be taken seriously.