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.

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, LGBTQ Issues, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Adam Herman says:

    Or, he could do the reverse Howard Dean strategy. Talk up your conservative views, but only talk about your liberal views when asked, and as quickly as possible change the subject back to your conservative views.

    Dean spent a lot of time talking about Iraq and social programs, but very little about his A+ rating from the NRA and his use of a rather sharp budget ax to hold spending down.

  2. madmatt says:

    He is also the biggest whore of the group, and has one of the more skeleton filled closets.

  3. Derrick says:

    I’m in agreement with madmatt. It is going to be awfully hard to win over the base of the Republican party with his skeletons, nevertheless some of his liberal views. I think he would make a decent 3rd party candidate if he was willing to put his money on the line, but if he gets the Republican nomination you can almost guarantee a Pat Buchanan-like challenge from the right that will make it hard for him to win

  4. Fersboo says:

    I was a resident of NYC during the second half of his first term as Mayor and during his entire second term. I’ve already seen most of his skeletons and I really don’t care. I don’t agree with 100% of his views, but the ones I do agree with are the most important ones. I will be voting for Rudy. I’ll never vote for McCain, even if it means that Hillarious Clinton becomes POTUS.

  5. Boyd says:

    I believe that Giuliani’s biggest obstacle will be his position on gun control (although he hasn’t talked about it much lately, for good reason). As a special interest group, gun owners are probably the largest constituency to vote based on a single issue, IMHO.

    Speaking for myself, I tend to agree with most of Giuliani’s positions, but this one point is likely enough to keep me from voting for him in a primary contest (even though I’m not a Republican, I tend to vote in Republican primaries).

  6. Greg D says:

    I don’t care what he “thinks”, I care what he’ll do. If he says “I’ll appoint judges in the mold of Thomas and Scalia, and won’t try to push gun control or gay rights as President”, I’ll vote for him.

    No judges, no vote. No guns, he might get my vote, but I won’t work for him.

  7. DL says:

    I’d like to see him as our “Border Czar” for a couple years – he could get the job done, but I could never vote for a man who threatens my guns, supports the destruction of marriage through redefinement and doesn’t have a problem with 50 million unborn deaths at the hand of his kind of thinking. As D’inesh and Glenn Beck say that the only difference between parties is of how fast you wish to go to Hell!

  8. Michael Devereaux says:

    I’m very intrigued by the idea of Rudy Guliani as President. I will wait and see what his positions are, if he runs for national office.

    I’m old enough to have been an adult watching New York City sink into the rotten, vicious, bankrupt and chaotic cesspool that it was when he became Mayor. That he could fix the city in such a short time is practically a miracle. I remember the Democrats of New York in a rabid froth attempting to derail his policies as they began to transform the city; as they desperately tried to assassinate him politically and failed. He triumphed.

    His leadership in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 was highly compelling.

    Mr. Guliani will be mute – stay on the sidelines – on the issues of gay marriage, abortion, and gun control. He might simply state that those are issues that must be decided state by state, and the federal government has no place in their legislation. This will not please social conservatives at all, and may be enough of a problem for them to refuse him; this would derail his chances of winning the nomination. In my mind that would hand the election to Hillary Clinton, as I have not yet seen any other Republican on the radar who can SUCCEED against her.

    We have almost two years for the 2008 Presidential race to play out. I’ll be paying attention to Mr. Guliani’s stands on issues, and on other candidates as they define themselves. We might all be surprised.