One of the early — and quite amazing — sidelights of the race for the Republican nomination for President in ’08 is how so many prominent conservatives are lining up behind Rudy Giuliani, who has perhaps the slimmest conservative credentials of any of the major GOP hopefuls.
The Republican Party has had a strong pro-life plank in its national platform since 1980, but the former New York mayor still characterizes himself as “pro-choice” and has never reversed his oft-stated 1990s opposition to a ban on partial-birth abortion. When I questioned him during the recent California Republican convention about his support of gun control while mayor and his Bush-like support of a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants, Giuliani again declined to change his past, non-conservative stances. He did, though, refuse to use the term “guest-worker program,” instead describing his position as favoring “immigration, assimilation and Americanization.”
While never actually endorsing gay marriage, Republican Giuliani broke with the President and most GOP members of Congress by opposing a constitutional definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. During his stint as mayor from 1993-2001, Giuliani actively courted the gay community by appointing gays to various city offices and marching in gay-pride parades. “How could we not be for Rudy?” is how James Vaughn, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, responded when I asked him who his group would support in ’08.
Many New York Republicans still bitterly recall how Giuliani, while New York’s first elected Republican mayor in nearly 30 years, endorsed Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo in Cuomo’s losing bid for re-election in 1994.
None of this record seems to bother the conservatives from coast to coast who have enthusiastically boarded the Giuliani bandwagon. William Simon, Jr., the ’02 Republican nominee for governor of California and a pro-life conservative, is heading up the New Yorker’s efforts in the Golden State. Republican Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan and former Rep. Jim Nussle of Iowa, both of whom sport lifetime American Conservative Union ratings of 86%, are the quarterbacks in their respective states for the Giuliani campaign’s hunt for national convention delegates. Even the New York Conservative Party, which steadfastly refused to consider giving Giuliani its ballot line in 2000 when he was briefly a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate against Hillary Clinton, now finds itself with more members increasingly open to the idea of backing the former mayor for President.
Many of those on the right, in conceding their differences with the 62-year-old Giuliani on cultural issues, say they nonetheless support him for President because they believe the charismatic Giuliani would be the most formidable Republican candidate against likely Democratic nominee Clinton. Others find less to dislike in Giuliani than they do in the other two GOP front-runners: Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Left of McCain
“I am really excited about Rudy Giuliani,” Gary Watson, former chairman of the Mohave County (Ariz.) Republican Central Committee, told the New York Times recently. The paper noted that “the former New York mayor has a more liberal record on abortion rights, gun control and gay rights than Mr. McCain.” Watson admitted that “the social issues are a little bit looser than what I appreciate,” but quickly added that he felt Giuliani “is stronger than McCain on the border issue.” (McCain, who opposed an ’04 Arizona initiative that would have denied state benefits to illegal immigrants, sounds little different from Giuliani or President Bush in his support of a comprehensive guest-worker/amnesty program).
A California GOP legislator who was part of a closed-door meeting of lawmakers with Giuliani during his appearance at the state Republican convention (and who requested anonymity) told me afterwards that “my wife and I are very pro-life” and that when he addressed the issue with Giuliani, “Rudy said, ‘I’m for adoption, not abortion,’ and said that he would like to see children whose parents are going to abandon them adopted. He brought out statistics showing how the number of abortions declined in New York while he was mayor.” In dubbing himself “neutral at this point,” this legislator said, “I’m leaning to Rudy.”
The most frequent reason cited by conservatives for backing Giuliani is what they perceive as his leadership ability during a time when terrorism is a critical issue. Michael Der Manouel, Jr., former California state GOP treasurer and founder of the Lincoln Club for major Republican donors in Fresno, told me, “The most important issue is: Who is going to protect our country? Rudy Giuliani showed what he could do in a crisis after 9/11. If our cities are burning, issues like abortion and gay rights — on which I do differ with Rudy — aren’t going to matter that much.” He added that a number of other Central California conservatives would soon be weighing in with him for Giuliani, among them former State Sen. and ’06 attorney general nominee Chuck Poochigian, State Assembly GOP Leader Mike Villines and Republican U.S. Representatives George Randanovich and Devin Nunes.
Agreeing that judicial appointments are a major part of a President’s legacy, Der Manouel said that Giuliani’s stated intent to name judges of the caliber of Bush Supreme Court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito was “good enough for me.”
Self-described conservative Der Manouel also said that he “is sick and tired of people who, for the last 10 years, call themselves conservatives, talking about things and not putting anything into action. I’ve moved beyond conservatism now, and I just want a doer.”