WASHINGTON — Rudy Giuliani’s pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination brings to my mind a book I wrote in the early 1990s, The Conservative Crack-Up. When I wrote the book Ronald Reagan’s successor, President George H. W. Bush, was ignoring many of the constituent ingredients of the Reagan Revolution, for instance, tax cuts. The various factions of the conservative coalition were disgruntled and threatening to take a walk. Once again liberal pundits were diagnosing the conservative movement as moribund. Ever since the conservative movement’s ascendancy within the Republican Party in 1964, these grim diagnoses have been handed down episodically. Every time there is dissatisfaction among conservatives or they suffer some electoral setback, the liberal pundits step forward and pronounce the modern conservative movement at death’s door. In my book I ventured the witticism that “conservatism is America’s longest dying political movement.”
By 1994 and the arrival of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” it became apparent that the movement was not dead but rather on its way to palmy days. This was what I anticipated in The Conservative Crack-Up, where I was careful to note that though the movement embraces contending factions they all come together at election time. The libertarians, the social conservatives, the hawks — all recognize that the Democrats’ alternative to them is a greater threat than they in good conscience could allow into government. I predicted that the conservative crack-up of the late 1990s would be transient and the conservative movement would go from strength to strength. Its overall agenda was good for the country. The agenda of the constantly changing enthusiasts of liberalism was too destructive.
Today, after very little effort, Giuliani is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Dick Morris is predicting a Giuliani vs. Clinton race in 2008. Yet some conservatives are dubious of the man who cleaned up New York, returned it to a vigor unimaginable from the 1960s through the 1980s, and then led New York and the country heroically through 9/11. Well, one knows a politician by the company he keeps, and Giuliani has around him the financial people who created the libertarian-conservative Manhattan Institute. He relied heavily on the Institute’s policies while governing New York. He will rely on libertarian-conservative policy makers in his race for the White House and once there.
One also knows a political leader by the action he takes. As mayor Giuliani took on the nanny state that city government had become, reducing the dependency that had one in seven New Yorkers living off government support. As for New York’s huge welfare rolls, he more than halved them and had more than 100,000 welfare recipients finding work annually by 1999. He cleaned up the crime-ridden streets, cutting crime by 57% and murder by 67%. By cutting spending and taxes he turned an economic basket case into an economic marvel. In eight years he reduced or extinguished 23 taxes. Every year he was in office, New York City’s economy grew faster than the nation’s.
Then came 9/11 and he displayed to the nation the traits he had so successfully displayed in reviving his city. He was decisive, efficient, prudent, and — something only those at his side in Gracie Mansion already knew — brave. After the first plane struck the World Trade Center, he instantly rushed to the scene. Arriving just after the second plane hit he reestablished governance nearby as the towers came down. He was in genuine peril but coolly oversaw the rescue work and communication with the outside world.
He had already demonstrated his awareness of the danger and nihilism of terrorists. In 1995 he expelled PLO leader Yasser Arafat from commemorations of the United Nations’ 50th anniversary sponsored by the city, saying, “When we’re having a party and a celebration, I would rather not have someone who has been implicated in the murders of Americans there….” Steadily his knowledge of international terrorism has grown to the point that he is now acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost authorities on terror. That alone in these times should commend him to the majority of the American electorate.
Still, he has another asset, noted by Steven Malanga in a comprehensive essay on Giuliani’s achievements published in the Winter issue of City Journal from which I have derived many of the above statistics. “Not since Teddy Roosevelt took on Tammany Hall,” Malanga writes, “…has a New York politician closely linked to urban reform looked like presidential timber.” As an urban reformer and seasoned warrior in the struggle against international terror, Giuliani will be a formidable candidate for the presidency. Surely conservatives of all stripes will recognize this. What they need to hear next is where the mayor who would be president stands on conservative social issues.