Rudy Giuliani could be the death knell of the Reagan Coalition, that successful alliance of economic, defense, and social conservatives forged in the 1976 Republican primary.
In his insurgent campaign against President Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan built the architecture for a durable political coalition of supply-siders, budget hawks, Cold Warriors, law-and-order advocates, welfare reformers, pro-lifers, defenders of the Second Amendment, and others. He integrated these main elements of the post-war conservative intellectual movement into a successful, winning political juggernaut that was, until recently, the Republican Party.
In recent years the social component of the coalition has been augmented by pro-family and pro-marriage advocates, opponents of affirmative action, and the proponents of secure borders and legal immigration.
Giuliani’s radical social positions are an affront to most elements of this arm of the GOP and the conservative movement.
Some conservatives claim that Giuliani’s vague and vaporous statements on the appointment of conservative judges, and his barely audible support of the ban on partial birth abortion, offer evidence of sound instincts sufficient to palliate the concerns of the traditionalist wing of the party.
On abortion, the integrity of marriage, and the Second Amendment, Giuliani puts a stick in the eye of social conservatives. As revealed on YouTube, he is a passionate supporter of the expenditure of taxpayer dollars to destroy unborn children. And he deserves very little credit for summoning the energy to oppose infanticide, which is what the partial birth abortion issue is really about. Even Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late Democratic Senator from New York, maintained that minimalist position with respect to the right to life.
But consider the damage Giuliani’s nomination and election as president would be to the supporters of marriage, the right to life, and other issues that represent a clear line of demarcation between Republicans and Democrats. His ascendancy to the head of the Republican Party would orphan all these constituencies which have enabled the GOP to reach beyond corporate board rooms, chambers of commerce, and think tanks to embrace a more diverse set of constituencies.
Evangelicals and church-going Catholics have been pummeled by many pundits on the left and a few fellow-traveling Republicans of the old WASP elite. But they represent not only the base of the GOP in the South but an important swing vote in the heartland states in the Midwest including Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. All they have to do is stay home, and the Republicans can bid these key states goodbye.
Even if Giuliani can reconfigure the electoral map by winning California, Pennsylvania, or New Jersey, that is little comfort to the social conservatives who have made the Republican Party their home these past forty years. They will be hopelessly marginalized from the only political vehicle for the defense of marriage and the unborn.
To put it another way, some economic and national defense conservatives may be able to make the calculation that Rudy is their man and standard-bearer. Indeed, Giuliani has some claim to their loyalties based on his record.
But this is not an option for social conservatives. It would be a Faustian bargain without even the assurance of any quid pro quo. If they are shut out of the GOP, they are finished as a force in American politics. This is not a parliamentary democracy. No splinter party or rump organization, centered in traditional values, will have any influence on the nation’s two parties.
Rudy Giuliani’s candidacy is not only a knife to the throat of the Reagan coalition. It is a lethal threat to social conservatism as a political movement in the United States.
As Sonny said in The Godfather, it may be time for social conservatives “…to go to the mattresses.”