The Strategic Failure of Republicans’ ‘Tough on Crime’ Policy

rudy giuliani nyc mayor tough on crime
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 2: Republican-Liberal candidate for New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani waves from the voting booth 02 November 1993. Giuliani predicted heavy voter turnout and that he was going to win the election. (HAI DO/AFP via Getty Images)

April 25, 2022

The days of “tough on crime” policies like ‘broken windows’ and ‘stop and frisk’ have been effectively over in New York City as a more liberal outlook took its place when they were no longer needed. But whether the policies were successful or not, the luxury to afford to do away with them and go back to lenient “pro-crime” policies is indicative of the transitory power of right-wing politics.

As crime increases in deep blue cities around the country, conservatives campaigning on reform obviously need to win over some of those blue voters; but assuming the situation is dire enough to secure them a win, when their reactionary energy runs out and the public no longer has use for them, the right-wing candidate is discarded. If the issue is gone, they’ll be dropped; if it persists, perhaps they stand a chance, only to extend their anomalous presence.

It would be curious to know how many current New York Democrats voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980, and how many for Rudy Giuliani in 1993. What did those elections represent for them? What had changed and what were the most pressing issues that demanded an exception be made to warrant voting for a Republican? Granted, these would be older individuals, hopefully not entirely swept away by the youthful anti-police rhetoric that accompanies the anarcho-communist sympathies of a college student that views every act of violence as a symptom of systematic oppression, and hence justifiable.

For Rudy Giuliani, that pressing issue was crime. He had promised to clean up the streets by implementing the ‘broken windows’ theory, which reasons that prosecuting small criminal acts like vandalism, fare evasion, loitering and public drinking, disincentivizes criminals to commit larger criminal acts, often those including violence against other New Yorkers. Yet while anti-police proponents adopt a soft stance on crime, often citing “need” as justification, the theory is making a comeback with Democratic Mayor Eric Adams in the wake of the subway shooting by a black nationalist that left 29 people wounded.  

(READ MORE: ‘Moderate’ Democrats Capitulate On Leftist Vision Amid Crime Surge, But Have They Learned Their Lesson?)

We can look at Giuliani’s victory as an ‘unprincipled exception’ for the New York Democratic voter. For a brief moment, they voted for the minority party’s solution to an issue that was not going to be solved by their own. In this case, ‘broken windows theory’ and ‘stop and frisk’ worked well enough that it took about 20 years for its criticism to gain momentum, when the program drew to a formal close in January 2014 under then-Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio. In the wake of the George Floyd riots, the last ‘stop and frisk’ unit was disbanded—which was more of a symbolic gesture anyway. 

Once the data was in that these programs disproportionately affected minorities it was concluded that this must be because of racist and discriminatory practices, where the criticism quickly dismissed the reality that communities of color are disproportionately committing the crimes. In a sleight of hand, even this fact, that more minorities are being arrested for crimes, is charged with racism. And it was after this data was in that the policies could be formally used against Republicans in future races. 

In other words, when the Stuyvesant dwellers and Park Slope upper class experience crime within their neighborhoods, they suspend their principles until they once again have the luxury to maintain them. 

(READ MORE: Forte: Mayor Adams Should Call Giuliani for Advice on Crime, Not Lightfoot)

So Republicans face a two front issue: one the one hand, given the surge of crime in the city, they might successfully run a ‘tough on crime’ campaign, only to be discarded when they succeed; and on the other, after their succession, they will fail to win another seat until the problem rears its ugly head again. This, ultimately, is a strategic failure, as it does nothing to keep the party in power to maintain order and establish itself as a legitimate force for good. 

This failure is expressly attributed to political blogger Curtis Yarvin (also known as Mencius Moldbug), and worth quoting in length: 

“In general, victory on an issue-based political rebellion is a strategic defeat, because it reduces the energy of support. Aristocratic support is crucial for any serious rebellion. Severe disorder in aristocratic cities produces rebellious thoughts among aristocrats, who start to question truths they had previously held sacred.

The first stage of these rebellious thoughts is the “unprincipled exception.” In the 1980s, it violated the principles of many aristocratic New Yorkers to vote for “tough on crime” Republicans. Seeing the results of their own principles in their own lives, they did not react by becoming Republicans—they reacted by voting for a Republican. They did not change their principles—they created an exception to those principles.

There are three fates for such an exception. It can stay what it is; it can go away; or it can expand to become a genuine change in principle. Because electing a Republican mayor created a tactical victory that gave the voters what they wanted, the exception went away—its troubling cognitive dissonance was no longer needed. Had the issue persisted, the exception would have stayed as it was or expanded.

Instead, thirty years [later], the progressive citizens of a mostly-safe, mostly-orderly New York looked at themselves and asked why they tolerated such unprincipled policing. Finding no answer, they rolled it back. Inertia no longer protected the consequences of the exception—and the conservative boomers in Queens and Staten Island who had allied with the exception were moving out and dying off. And the new consciousness was specifically programmed against “broken windows” and “stop-and-frisk.” In the end, the tactical victory was lost and became near-impossible to repeat. Finem respice.”

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