Nicholas Goldberg: What makes Rudy Giuliani’s son think he’s qualified to be governor of New York?

What does it say about the state of our democracy that Andrew Giuliani — former golf pro, Trump factotum, and son of the man formerly known as “America’s Mayor” — could potentially become the Republican nominee for governor of New York?

I wrote about young Giuliani a year ago as a bit of a dork, shortly after he announced he was running in the GOP primary on June 28th. I described him as an “empty suit” in a column about unqualified candidates. It honestly never occurred to me that he would be taken seriously.

But then I woke up one last morning to the news that a poll just a month before closing had put him five points ahead of the better-funded four-term congressman, who was backed by the state GOP organization, and other better-qualified candidates . There were also surveys that show the race in more detail, but I’m still shocked: How can this even be possible?

Stipple style portrait illustration by Nicholas Goldberg

opinion columnist

Nicholas Goldberg

Nicholas Goldberg was the editorial page editor for 11 years and is a former editor of the Op-Ed page and the Sunday Opinion column.

Giuliani’s resume is as thin as wallpaper. So thin that he still advertises his bachelor’s honors on his Giuliani for Governor website. And his post-college internships. And he notes that he played professional golf for seven years.

That’s how he caught the eye 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 appeared to be his first real job — at the White House. His main job was apparently to serve as a liaison to the visiting sports teams. Then (“after a meal at Mar-A-Lago with Rudy Giuliani,” according to Axios), Trump bestowed the title of “Special Assistant to the President” on the son.

Giuliani says on his website that as an associate he helped Trump “shape policy,” including the 2017 tax cuts. But a former White House reporter I spoke to told me Andrew was just a “syphilis,” a guy Trump liked to play golf with. The reporter added, “I don’t recall him ever being involved in anything serious.”

Giuliani, 36, who has never run for mayor, legislature, city council or school board, is now struggling to lead a state government with several hundred thousand employees and an annual budget of more than $200 billion.

It is highly unlikely that Giuliani will become governor. For one thing, he may not win the primary. And even if he does, he’s likely to lose in November. The last time a Republican was elected governor of New York was in 2002. The path is not easy for a candidate who pokes fun at leftists and socialists, masks mandates, AOC and President Biden. (“Does he even know he’s President of the United States?” The Washington Post quoted Giuliani, echoing his golfing partner.)

But it’s not impossible either. Not these days.

So how come a nobody like Giuliani stands a chance of winning?

Nepotism of course!

Of course, being the son of a well-known politician like Rudy Giuliani gives you jobs, connections, access to donors, an early introduction to the business — all the things Andrew Giuliani means when he says that being a politician “is in my DNA .”

But there is more to it than that.

Academics — and certainly political strategists — have long known that name recognition (dubbed “brand advantage” by some) gives politicians a “significant electoral advantage,” a study found. In addition, research has shown that this benefit can be passed from parents to their children and other relatives. If your name is George Bush, just like your father, or if you share the Kennedy surname with your better-known uncles, aunts, and cousins, you are effectively inheriting some of their political advantages.

Why? Well, the most beneficent analysis is that it’s a “heuristic” for voters trying to decide between candidates. In the absence of information about the candidates’ program or political plans, people are looking for shortcuts. Voters can vote based on a candidate’s party affiliation or ethnic background. Or because they recognize a familiar last name: I liked JFK and RFK; I will probably also like her brother Teddy or her nephew Patrick.

(This has even worked well for people who happen to share famous names — an unrelated Al Gore, for example, won a Democratic primary for the US Senate in Mississippi in 2010; he lost the general election.)

The less charitable explanation for the advantage of brand names in politics is that people just blindly and lazily vote for names they know. That’s sad, but apparently true. It has to do with what is known in social psychology as the “mere exposure effect” or “principle of familiarity”. In other words, if I recognize your name, I’m more likely to vote for you even if I don’t know anything about you.

Familiarity does not seem to breed contempt.

An interesting wrinkle here is that Andrew Giuliani is trying to capitalize on an ailing brand. His father, Rudy — Andrew’s only real connection to voters — is better known these days for his melting mascara, his press conference next to the sex shop, his maneuvers in Ukraine, the FBI’s raid on his home and office, and his lies about the 2020 election than for his glory days as mayor of New York City.

But maybe that’s just me. Maybe Republicans still love Rudy Giuliani for all the reasons I can’t stand him.

In the end, the question is whether New Yorkers want to put their former mayor’s clueless, unexamined son in a very serious, very powerful job — a job that propelled four incumbents (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.

@Nick_Goldberg

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2022-06-06/andrew-giuliani-governor-election-new-york Nicholas Goldberg: What makes Rudy Giuliani’s son think he’s qualified to be governor of New York?

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