When Ronald Reagan addressed the Religious Roundtable's National Affairs Briefing in 1980, he said, "I know you can't endorse me, but I endorse you." With these words, Reagan formed an enduring relationship with the socially conservative voters who helped build a Republican majority.
Speaking to the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit Saturday, the current Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani issued a much less ringing endorsement. "You have absolutely nothing to fear from me," the former New York City mayor promised the mostly evangelical audience.
Maybe that's good enough. Most observers gave Giuliani high marks for his speech. Fred Barnes described it as "unquestionably a net plus for his presidential bid," and quoted Gary Bauer calling the remarks "a step forward." Byron York said Giuliani "helped himself." The most socially liberal candidate in the 2008 Republican presidential field stood in front of 2,000 evangelicals, receiving laughter and applause rather than boos and jeers.
Indeed, Giuliani gave the best speech he could under the circumstances. He focused on leadership and shared values. He invoked Reagan and the Founding Fathers. He talked about cleaning up New York City, locking up the murderers and drug dealers while kicking out the prostitutes and pornographers. He mentioned his fights with the New York Times and the liberal elites who believed they had a constitutional right to force Christians to pay for public displays of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung.
For the first time, Giuliani publicly and unequivocally vowed to veto "any reduction in the impact of the Hyde Amendment or other existing limits on abortions or the public funding of abortions." Although awkwardly phrased, that presumably commits him to vetoing efforts to repeal Mexico City or pass the Freedom of Choice Act.
Now this is progress. Before running for president, Giuliani opposed both the partial-birth abortion ban and the Hyde Amendment. He spoke favorably about taxpayer-funded abortion as recently as this year. Perhaps James Dobson's third-party threats are having an impact after all.
Giuliani's subtext was clear: Don't vote for a third party -- I'm good enough. The only thing you have to fear is Hillary herself.
If Giuliani is the Republican nominee come November 2008, that message might work. But Rudy wasn't the star of the Family Research Council's show. By all accounts, no speaker was better received than Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee hammered home his belief in the right to life and traditional marriage. The longtime Baptist preacher chided those "merely lip-synch to our songs" rather than "sing from their hearts." And he challenged conservative Christians to put principles above party.
The result? Huckabee dominated the onsite straw poll and came within half a point of Mitt Romney in the much larger online straw poll. Giuliani lagged well behind.
After the other more socially conservative top-tier candidates underwhelmed or left the crowd divided, even some activists whose heads were with Romney, Fred Thompson or John McCain felt their hearts were with Huckabee. Meanwhile, Giuliani may have won their respect but he has a long way to go before winning their votes.
Polls in Iowa and some Southern states show socially conservative voters giving Huckabee a fresh look, but two things keep the former Arkansas governor out of the top tier. The first -- and most important -- is that he doesn't have enough money to be viable. Huckabee raised just $1 million in the third quarter.
Yet the second reason speaks more directly to the social conservatives' dilemma: Huckabee would have a hard time getting the nomination because economic conservatives disapprove of his record on taxes and dislike his overall philosophy of government.
Club for Growth and company haven't been swayed by Huckabee's assurances, such as signing the taxpayer protection pledge. They haven't been impressed by his endorsement of more radical tax-reform ideas like the Fair Tax. And they don't seem to trust that he can meet them halfway on the size of government.
Nothing wrong with healthy skepticism about a politician's campaign promises, especially when they contradict aspects of his record. But why should social conservatives be more forgiving of a candidate who donated to Planned Parenthood and praised Margaret Sanger than economic conservatives are of a Republican who raised taxes and contemplates a national smoking ban?
Faced with an unorthodox and imperfect field, the different elements of the Republican coalition may be forced to fight for their priorities. Why should social conservatives be the first to give up theirs? They should work toward breaking their Thompson-Romney-Huckabee stalemate. At the same time, as Giuliani magnanimously extends his hand they should do their best to keep yanking him rightward.
Let them know the values vote isn't available at a discount rate.
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