Prior to September 11, 2001, Rudy Giuliani was one of many significant Republicans with zero chance of winning the party’s nomination to become President of the United States. He’d been a good bet to take on Hillary for the Senate in 2000. But to run for President? No, not unless he staged some kind of “sensible center” third party strategy. By 2000, the GOP had long ago become a pro-life party, every bit as much as the Democrats had cast their lot with Planned Parenthood. Rudy was seen as a miracle worker in once-hopeless New York. He was an awesome law and order conservative and a magnificent political pugilist who had survived daily encounters with the New York Times, but he was obviously and clearly at odds with the party on the life issue. Becoming a Republican senator from a blue state or perhaps a cabinet-appointee was as far as he would go.
September 11 and its aftermath changed Rudy Giuliani’s political fortunes considerably. Perhaps no figure emerged from that day with higher stock than the man who would soon be called "America’s Mayor." Though Giuliani transcended the party, he wasn’t shy about using his credibility to help Republicans. His prime-time speech endorsing President Bush’s re-election bid was the best of the convention. With his little, round spectacles, one could almost imagine Giuliani was channeling his fellow New Yorker Teddy Roosevelt.
As high as Bush’s star rose in the wake of his 2004 victory, its fall has been equally great. The primary process is off to an early start only two years since Bush won his second term and no one is looking to take his mantle upon their shoulders. He is seen today as a big-spender who has failed to maintain the early promise of victory in Iraq. The war continues with mixed results. Conservatives, once nearly immune to the press’s constant assault against Bush’s leadership, have begun to wonder whether there might be substance to the criticism. Unlike the Left, most Republicans don’t want out, but they do want to win and they wonder whether their man has it in him. Frustration has built as Bush continually absorbs punishment from both the media and the Democrats without finding his feet in defense. Certainly, he has failed to show the Reaganesque ability to bypass the press and take his case directly to the people.
Enter Rudy Giuliani the presidential candidate. Republicans hungry for revenge after getting blown out in the 2006 elections are thinking hard about letting the mayor carry the party’s banner in 2008. As Michael Barone has demonstrated, Giuliani has the potential to turn the electoral map substantially in the GOP’s favor. But the appeal is visceral. Here is a man who imposed order on a crime-ridden, seemingly ungovernable city. He took the hardest and best shots the New York liberal establishment had to offer and proved to his skills as a political streetfighter. As Bush begins to sink below the waves of invective from the NYT-Michael Moore-Kos-Pelosi-Murtha crowd, Republicans are looking for more than an ideological soulmate. They want someone who can take the fight hard to jihadists around the globe, just as importantly, they want someone who can throw a strong body check into the anti-war Left. Rudy may be pro-choice, pro-gun control, and pro-civil unions, but he plays to win.
The question, the one that will take on increasing urgency as we more closely approach the season of Iowa and New Hampshire, is how Rudy Giuliani will deal with the social conservatives who have put down deep roots in the party. Opposition to abortion, for example, has become nearly as important to GOP voters as a commitment to limited government and cutting taxes. The mayor rode a wave of good feeling into this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference after announcing that the prominent Federalist Society stalwart and former Solicitor General of the United States Ted Olson had joined his campaign. Olson is very much in the mold of lawyers conservatives would like to see appointed to the Supreme Court. His alliance with Giuliani adds weight to the mayor’s statement that he wants to appoint “strict constructionists” to the court.
Olson is critical, because Giuliani has a long way to go to reassure nervous pro-lifers about his judicial intentions. Consider the following lines from a speech the mayor gave to the National Abortion Rights Action League in 2001:
This event shows that people of different political parties and different political thinking can unite in support of choice. In doing so, we are upholding a distinguished tradition that began in our city starting with the work of Margaret Sanger and the movement for reproductive freedom that began in the early decades of the 20th century.
So it is consistent with that philosophy (of political freedom) to believe that in the most personal and difficult choices that a woman has to make with regard to a pregnancy, those choices should be made based on that person’s conscience and that person’s way of thinking and feeling. The government shouldn’t dictate that choice by making it a crime or making it illegal. (parenthetical added)
There is a great deal to make social conservatives skittish in this brief portion of a short speech. No candidate of social conservatives would welcome NARAL in the first place, much less praise Margaret Sanger, whose name is anathema to pro-lifers of all stripes. What might be more concerning is the equation of abortion with personal rights of conscience. That is the language of Supreme Court opinions, the kind that invoke penumbras of this and emanations of that as they remove issues of great controversy from the democratic process.
Will Olson’s presence by Giuliani’s side be enough to prevent pro-lifer gut checks from turning into Rudy-regurgitations? Consider Olson’s own statements. He told ABC News reporter Jan Crawford Greenburg that Giuliani would likely be willing to nominate and fight for someone like Janice Rogers Brown (a conservative favorite) to join the Supreme Court. He insisted to Hugh Hewitt that Giuliani’s judicial philosophy is built upon the notion that judges are to apply the law with regard to the policymakers’ intent.
The careful calculus of ideals and civilizational struggle will continue on through the primary season. Pro-lifers don’t have a candidate who looks anywhere the equal of Giuliani in fighting the War on Terror, with the possible exception of McCain, a man with an iron will and the most up close and personal military experience. But McCain has damaged himself with Republicans by acting as a maverick in the Senate. When the primary season moves past window shopping into decision-making, Giuliani will be pressed hard about his speech to NARAL and whether he really believes in appointing judges who won’t legislate from the bench. Pointing to Ted Olson may not be enough when ads begin to air and Giuliani finds himself standing by the smoldering memory of Margaret Sanger.
The deal is on the table. If Giuliani says he thinks abortion should be legal, but that the Constitution — interpreted properly — leaves that decision in the hands of the democratic process, then he will be the first pro-choice candidate to carry the GOP banner in a long time. If he is unwilling to be quite so explicit, then his opponents will open up with both barrels. McCain will have the largest opening with his strong pro-life voting record. Maybe the mayor will still have the votes, but it becomes much less of a sure thing. Much less.