When Rudy Giuliani took the stage last Friday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., he did so to an overflowing crowd of mainly young, socially conservative activists. But, while his nearly hour-long speech touched on a host of conservative themes -- including welfare, taxes and, of course, the war on terror -- one set of issues was conspicuously absent: social issues, most notably abortion.
The CPAC omission highlights a strategy for addressing the concerns of social conservatives that has emerged in the opening stages of Giuliani's campaign: He's keeping his attention, and theirs, focused squarely on the war on terror.
It's a strategy based on the belief that if Giuliani can portray the war against Islamic terror as the central crisis of our time, and if he can argue that a President Giuliani would be most effective at conducting that war, he can keep the focus off what separates him from many conservatives (the culture war) and on what unites them (the war on terror).
During initial visits to early primary states, Giuliani has made frequent invocation of 9-11 his calling card, while steering clear of social issues like abortion. Speaking recently at state Republican conventions in New Hampshire and California, he did not discuss his positions on social issues and didn't take questions from the audience, thus providing no opportunity for them to ask him about his views on abortion. At a recent "town hall" meeting in South Carolina, Giuliani devoted most of his speech to the heroism of police officers and firefighters on September 11th and the threat of terrorism. Similar meetings have taken place in Iowa and New York.
Of course, in order to attract wary pro-lifers, Giuliani -- whose unequivocal support for abortion earned him the endorsement of abortion-rights organizations in past elections -- must convince them that the abortion issue pales in comparison to America's existential fight against Islamic extremism.
This is no small undertaking given that most pro-lifers consider abortion tantamount to murder, and many compare America's abortion regime to a national holocaust or genocide.
Despite this reality, the Giuliani campaign clearly believes that the Republican Party's basic political calculus has shifted in a direction favorable to its candidate. Speaking with Time magazine recently, a top Giuliani strategist put it simply: "This is the first wide-open primary season since 9-11, and the war on terror is such an important issue with conservative and moderate voters alike, I'm not sure social issues are decisive now."
So, will Giuliani's "The-war-on-terror-trumps-all-else" message resonate with pro-life conservatives?
No, and here's why.
EVEN GRANTING THAT THE WAR on terror is paramount and that Rudy Giuliani would be our most effective wartime leader (both dubious assumptions), the theory assumes that if Giuliani does not receive the GOP presidential nomination, whoever ends up winning it will be significantly worse when it comes to protecting America from terrorist attacks.
This assumption is incorrect, of course. If Giuliani does not become the Republican Party's nominee, the candidate Republicans do choose will be at worst only marginally worse on the issue of fighting terrorism. In other words, there are no candidates who support terrorism, or even any serious candidates who do not take terrorism very seriously. When it comes to protecting America from terrorist attacks, then, if we do not get Rudy, we will get somebody nearly as strong.
On abortion, however, the positions of the GOP presidential candidates aren't quite so monolithic. While some view abortion as the intentional taking of an innocent human life -- akin to murder -- Giuliani views it as a constitutional right that ought to be allowed at almost any time during pregnancy, for any reason at all -- and often at taxpayers' expense. This puts Giuliani at the opposite end of the spectrum from other GOP presidential candidates on the protection of innocent human life in the womb.
To put it another way, if, on a scale from one to ten, Giuliani can be considered a "ten" on terrorism (with "ten" representing the ideal hard-line stance against terror and "one" representing a pro-terror position), it is also true that on the right to life (with "ten" representing the most pro-life position and "one" representing the most anti-life position), Giuliani receives, to be charitable, a "two." This gives him, on the issues of terror and human life, a total score of "twelve," which puts him well behind any pro-life conservative candidate, who, while receiving a "nine" or "ten" on the right to life, would also surely receive no less than an "eight" or "nine" on terror.
So, what would a Giuliani presidency look like for pro-life conservatives who believe America is threatened by the twin scourges of abortion and Islamic terrorism? A Giuliani presidency would perhaps protect America from the scourge of Islamic terror, but it would also perpetuate and reaffirm a scourge that has already taken the lives of over 50 million innocents. Social conservatives can, and must, do better.
At CPAC, billed as the largest gathering of conservative political activists in the country, Rudy's silence on abortion and other social issues didn't stop conference-goers from giving him several standing ovations. Giuliani endeared himself to his audience by sticking to the safest possible conservative themes: Ronald Reagan ("I am part of the Reagan Revolution") and "Freedom" ("We believe in giving freedom to people"). As a result, Giuliani finished second in the CPAC Straw Poll of Republican Presidential candidates.
Tellingly, however, Giuliani performed much worse (fifth place) among the third of conference attendees for whom the sanctity of human life and other social issues were paramount. Perhaps Giuliani's constant references to Ronald Reagan reminded these conservatives that while it is imperative to protect America's freedom, as President Reagan famously declared, "there is no cause more important for preserving that freedom than affirming the transcendent right to life of all human beings, the right without which no other rights have any meaning."
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