A year ago few political pundits or GOP insiders would have predicted Rudy Giuliani would be leading the national polls for the presidential nomination. There were too many issues: his pro-choice views, his personal life and his temper. Yet he is in the lead and (in part because of the weaknesses of his opponents) he has a good shot at the nomination.
By all accounts Giuliani had a great September. He stole John McCain’s thunder on the Petraeus hearings by taking on MoveOn.org and Hillary Clinton. He seemed comfortable on the world stage rubbing elbows with Margaret Thatcher and the current British leadership. Then he won the money race, beating expectations by playing coy with the media which had pegged Mitt Romney to finish first.
But the race is a long way from won and significant hurdles lay in Giuliani’s path. Social conservative leaders are threatening a mutiny. Romney will have unlimited personal funds down the stretch in key primary states. So what could Giuliani do to lock up the nomination?
First, he should use his lawyer skills, marshal the evidence and make the case that he has met social conservatives at least half way on abortion. His support for strict constructionist judges in the mold of justices Thomas, Scalia and Roberts is a start but will not be sufficient for many social conservative.
In his address at Houston Baptist University in May (and through surrogates including pro-life stalwart Rep. Pete Sessions since), he seems to have recognized this and has tried to convince conservatives that he is not a pro-choice extremist. He supports the partial birth abortion ban and the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding that ban, would leave the Hyde Amendment and Mexico City accord in place and favors parental notification (with the caveat that a judge be available in extreme cases such as incest).
But most conservative voters don’t know this. Giuliani needs to speak loudly and clearly to remove any doubt. At the coming Family Research Council Voters Value Forum he needs to reiterate that these are his positions, that he will resist attempts to tamper with the Hyde Amendment or repeal the Mexico City Accords, and that all this (plus, of course, the appointment of strict constructionist judges) should lead pro-life voters to support him.
Second, while it is tempting, he should not follow Fred Thompson’s lead in telling James Dobson in effect “I’m not calling you but you can call me.” Though voters like a candidate to be his own man, it’s too early to denigrate the influence of prominent social conservatives. There will be plenty of time down the road if he is the nominee to, as one conservative insider put it, quietly “tell everyone to get on the bus.” For now, reiterating that he respects people of faith and their views is a better tactic. And for voters who don’t know about it, reminding them that he tried to cut off public funding for the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibit (and its jaw-dropping “art” which defiled religious images) wouldn’t hurt.
Third, he should supplement the Twelve Commitments with the Hillary List, to feature issues that she will go hard left on and that he poses the best choice against.
For example, he should put on the list the six Supreme Court justices she will most likely nominate such as Lani Ganier and Bill Lann Lee, two of her husband’s favorite leftist laywers (liberal legal scholar and Supreme Court advocate Lawrence Tribe won’t make the list since he conceded there is a Second Amendment an individual right to own a gun) and the list of conservative legal issues which will be lost under Hillary (e.g. partial birth abortion ban).
He should list the tax and spend disasters she will impose and tally up the total amount of increased spending and required tax hikes for them (including projects ranging from health care to Baby Bonds). Then he can toss in a few of her most extreme statements and positions (including support for the DC gun ban and racial preferences in hiring and school admissions). By doing so, he can make the electability argument more vivid.
The more GOP voters appreciate what the stakes will be in November and the danger for conservatives if they select a lackluster nominee, the more likely they may be to overlook ideological differences with Giuliani.
Fourth, Giuliani has long since been a crafty and pugnacious opponent of the liberal media. His New York press conferences made for great theater as he routinely rapped the New York Times and other liberal outlets. One of his best moments in the debates was his aggressive rebuttal in the Iowa debate when he questioned the Des Moines Register reporter’s assumption that higher taxes were needed to garner more revenue. A few whacks at an immoderate moderator or at a press avail will remind conservatives that there are few who are better at dueling with the media than he is.
Finally, his famed temper has been under control but at an appropriate moment he should show just a flash of anger. His multiple divorces are well known and seem to be drawing yawns from GOP voters but the attacks on his personal life may intensify. One commentator (without an indication that she had ever met Judith Giuliani) went so far as to write: “She is vulgar, uneducated, grasping and insecure — and has failed to keep those attributes hidden.” There is the decided possibility that voters, especially married women, will find such attacks beyond the pale and that Giuliani and his wife will be the beneficiaries of a backlash. The next time someone asks him whether his “family isn’t a problem” he should show a little of that Giuliani temper and say “lay off, buddy.”
All of this may not be enough to satisfy some GOP primary voters. Giuliani may find the road to the White House increasingly rough as his opponents pick through his New York City record and past rhetoric on everything from guns to illegal aliens. But these steps will satisfy some of the voters. And in a crowded primary field you don’t need to get ‘em all to win.