How Rudy Giuliani Can Sell Himself to Conservatives
YahooNews is running an evergreen piece by AP’s Liz Sidoti examining Rudy Giuliani’s strengths and weaknesses in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. It’s a solid assessment.
Before Sept. 11, Giuliani was known as the hard-charging prosecutor-turned-politician who cleaned up Times Square, led the city out of fiscal despair and brought Republican rule back to the liberal mecca. Giuliani, of course, made enemies in the process, but on Sept. 11 even his chronic critics were muted when he took charge amid the rubble of the World Trade Center’s twin towers. To many, he became a picture of strength, a reminder of the resilience of the American spirit.
The former mayor’s support for abortion rights, gay rights and gun control conflict with the hard-line positions of the GOP’s right. His supporters say he’s not as liberal on those issues as he’s made out to be. Still, he’s from New York — and that alone rankles the party’s conservative wing. Despite that, Giuliani’s backers contend — and some Republican strategists agree — that he could get support from fiscal conservatives because of his record of cutting taxes, curbing spending and promoting small government, particularly now when the base is smarting over the soaring federal deficit under Republicans. And, with the country still at war, his link to Sept. 11 — the brand of a strong leader — could trump the base’s concerns about his background and stand on social issues. “Giuliani’s national security credentials will allow him to span ideological divides in the Republican Party and win conservative votes,” said Greg Strimple, a GOP strategist in New York who is neutral in the race.
Another factor that could help Giuliani is how the primary calendar shakes out. New Hampshire and Michigan hold early contests, and New Jersey, California, Illinois, Florida and other states viewed as more hospitable to a moderate may schedule their votes earlier in the year, perhaps lessening the importance of a strong showing for Giuliani in Iowa and South Carolina.
He’s going to have a tough time selling his views of the social issues to the base but it’s not an impossible task. The key is going to be in how he sells it. He’s going to have to explain his positions using arguments that appeal to conservatives: The spirit of the Declaration of Independence, Christian values, and the legacy of Ronald Reagan. There are arguments on all those issues that can be couched that way.
Doing that will be much more effective than Mitt Romney’s flip flopping. Giuliani is what he is and suddenly coming to Jesus, as it were, and realizing that he’s against abortion rights, against gay rights, and an unabashed fan of the 2nd Amendment will diminish his appeal as a straight shooting, decisive leader. Far better to just stand up for what he believes in and explain to conservatives why, despite some differences, he’s one of us.
UPDATE: Steven Malanga argues in the latest City Journal “Yes, Rudy Giuliani Is a Conservative . .. . And an electable one, at that.”
Giuliani may be the most conservative candidate on a wide range of issues. Far from being a liberal, he ran New York with a conservative’s priorities: government exists above all to keep people safe in their homes and in the streets, he said, not to redistribute income, run a welfare state, or perform social engineering. The private economy, not government, creates opportunity, he argued; government should just deliver basic services well and then get out of the private sector’s way. He denied that cities and their citizens were victims of vast forces outside their control, and he urged New Yorkers to take personal responsibility for their lives. “Over the last century, millions of people from all over the world have come to New York City,” Giuliani once observed. “They didn’t come here to be taken care of and to be dependent on city government. They came here for the freedom to take care of themselves.” It was that spirit of opportunity and can-do-ism that Giuliani tried to re-instill in New York and that he himself exemplified not only in the hours and weeks after 9/11 but in his heroic and successful effort to bring a dying city back to life.
Ed Morrissey agrees and contends, “Conservatives should reconsider Giuliani. Of all the candidates in the race thus far, he has the best track record of implementing conservative governance consistently and successfully.”
I’ll wait and see who else is running and weigh their platforms a bit before going quite that far. Still, my views on Giuliani and his prospects have evolved. I’d rather have a competent leader who can get things done on conservative principles that most of the country agrees on than one with a 100% ACU rating that wastes his time pandering to the base on issues where his chances of actually impacting policy are minimal.
Hat tip to Lorie Byrd for the Malanga and Morrissey links.