I’m a social conservative. I used to think former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani could never be nominated as the Republican candidate for President, given his pro-choice and pro-gay sympathies. Recent circumstances convince me that not only can Giuliani get the nomination, he will. And that, if nominated, he will win election. The giant karmic wheel of political affairs has turned his direction.
In the latest turn, President Bush failed to demonstrate timely leadership on Hurricane Katrina. I say “demonstrate.” In fact, he did a great deal, perhaps everything he could possibly have done (short of turning back the clock and not appointing a hack to head FEMA). But he did not show us himself doing it, whatever it was. Only the latest such failure, the hurricane brouhaha, illuminated Bush’s worst fault as President.
He will not publicly lead. He can do it when he has to — the bullhorn on the rubble of the WTC, and so forth. Some of this may owe to disdain for the media (which hate him in turn), Christian forbearance and humility, an awkward speaking style, a determination to “change the tone,” a neurotic need to duck public conflict. Who cares? Reagan never let the media — or anything else — scare him offstage.
Result: A Republican Congress that lacks focus, runaway spending and government growth, and a confused Republican majority in the land. Commentators on the right have been complaining about this part of the Bush presidency for a long time.
Our own Jed Babbin, writing in August about Bush and the Iraq war: “Wartime presidents must lead their people. In this, Mr. Bush has fallen flat….Wartime presidents have to tell our people what is going on, and why. They have to ask people to make sacrifices and explain, in compelling terms, why those sacrifices are essential to the future of the nation. And though he is not failing in the war planning task Mr. Bush is on the road to making as much of a hash of [communicating leadership] as LBJ did in Vietnam.”
Jonah Goldberg, two weeks ago, in National Review: “The GOP as a governing party is becoming bloated, self-absorbed, and lazy. Conservatives may have to look forward to years of incremental victories, less-than-incremental setbacks, cronyism, hypocrisy, rent-seeking, and the sort of pragmatic compromise which inevitably grinds down intellectual joy and entrepreneurialism.”
So far, Bush and the Republican Party have been lucky. While Mr. Bush won’t take the stage, the Democrats apparently can’t. The barest possible charismatic Democrat — think Barack Obama — gets instant whoops of hype from the hungry media. But so far — knock wood, Mr. Bush — there is no real personified opposition.
THE REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP VACUUM has many conservatives, many Republicans, and many mainstream Americans longing for authority, for someone to step in and run things. Someone to take charge visibly of the day-to-day conduct of the country’s affairs. Somebody who will butt heads willingly, even joyously, with obstreperous backstabbers, obstructionists, foot-draggers, and whiners, whether in the opposition party or his own. Someone who will joyfully champion a public fight against waste and inefficiency. Somebody who may be at times conspicuously wrong, but who will, nonetheless, be conspicuous.
It sounds like Rudy Giuliani to me.
What of the objections of the “religious right,” the vaunted “base”? What of abortion, stem cell research, and gay “marriage”?
You may consider me one of those people. I have worked with organizations one could call “religious right,” and I have spent time all my life among people who care passionately for religion. I was raised by a grandmother who would fit every crude coastal liberal stereotype of a Christian bigot.
In 30-plus years, the religious right as a political movement has grown very sophisticated and practical about what it wants and what it can get at any given time. In the legislative arena, for example, pro-life politicos have picked careful battles, on partial birth abortion and parental notification. Meanwhile, elect more and more Republicans. The judiciary has the muscle on all the social issues, and has had ever since Roe.
Here, the great karmic wheel of politics has turned almost enough to excuse Giuliani social liberalism. After all, what can a President do to affect abortion politics? Most important, appoint judges. By the end of George W. Bush’s term, he will have appointed two, perhaps three, justices to the Supreme Court. Would Giuliani appoint a Ruth Bader Ginsburg, either to SCOTUS or a lower court? Given the ex-mayor’s bent toward free-market reform and stout crime enforcement, no. A judge conservative on economic and criminal justice matters is likely to take a conservative view of social issues, too.
Some of my religious confreres will not be able to stomach Giuliani having marched in drag in gay pride parades or his stated pro-choice opinions. But many of us will take a practical look at him and at the office of President and ask, “How much could he hurt our cause?” The answer would be, “Not much.”
Besides, the protection of life is written into the GOP platform, and there it will stay. What’s to prevent Giuliani from coming up with a formulation the equivalent, on the right, of John Kerry’s “personally opposed, but won’t impose”?
IN POLITICS, YOU CAN’T have everything. But without winning, you don’t have anything, nor any prospect of getting any. Support Giuliani loses on the right will be more than offset by votes he can win elsewhere. Importantly, given his strengths in law enforcement, terror response, and welfare reform, those votes will not come from the left. He will not make the Republican Party more liberal. He will make it bigger.
Oh, he’s got his faults, but everybody already knows about them. He’s been divorced, he’s had cancer. He’s balding, he wears glasses. He’s a monstrous egotist, but with an unerring instinct for the right thing and for high-minded political principles. He’s from New York, but he’s got the common touch — as mayor, he ran his own radio talk show and fielded calls from anyone. He lights up a room or a television study. Everybody knows who he is.
If he can apply his rigorous views on law enforcement to illegal immigration — the huge, unaddressed worry of three quarters of America — there is no way to keep Giuliani out of the White House.
For the time being, he’s doing the very best thing that a truly qualified candidate can do. Let all the hair-plugged, toupeed, or blow-dried wannabes chew each other up (along with the scenery), and stay out of it. There is only one other truly qualified Republican executive who could compete with Rudy, and he’s doing the same thing Rudy’s doing. His name is Jeb Bush.
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