Rich Lowry describes the "Pete Wilsonification" of Rudy, but it's worth pointing out many major differences between Wilson's failed candidacy and Rudy's current bid. Even though Giuliani, like Wilson before him, is now running as an unabashedly pro-choice candidate, when Wilson ran, there was a concerted effort among moderate Republicans to move the party away from social issues out of a fear that they were alienating independents, and Wilson was part of that. I did a quick Nexis search, and found an LA Times article from February 1995 that began:
As he contemplates whether to launch a campaign for the White House, Gov. Pete Wilson has rejected recent warnings from religious conservatives and insisted this week that he plans a fight at the 1996 national convention to remove anti-abortion language in the Republican Party platform.
He later backed off from that vow, but the damage was done. Compare that to the tone of Giuliani's speech today to the Houston Baptist University, as related by the AP:
"I have profound respect for your views," he said. "I have profound respect for your education, and I have profound respect for your religion." But, he said, it is uniquely American to disagree on some political issues while agreeing on many others.
"We understand how to respect each other's differences," he said.
According to the AP account, his speech was warmly received, although several religious conservatives in attendance were cited as saying they wouldn't vote for him. The point is, unlike Wilson, Giuliani isn't going out of his way to pick a fight with social conservatives. He's trying to be respectful. He's just making the pitch to those who are willing to overlook disagreements on abortion and consider his other assets as a presidential candidate. If, however, over the course of the long campaign, facing constant questions about abortion, Giuliani gets frustrated and just snaps, delivering a tirade against social conservatives for being overly obsessed with abortion, than that will be another story entirely.
Also, beyond abortion, there are a lot of other reasons why Wilson failed that are inapplicable to Giuliani. In addition to angering social conservatives, Wilson signed a major tax increase in California in 1992, which damaged him with economic conservatives; Rudy is making the pitch that he is the strongest fiscal conservative in the race, and has a record to back it up. Wilson dropped out for lack of money; Rudy had a solid fundraising showing in the first quarter and shouldn't have problems on that front. As far as I recall, Wilson never led any national GOP primary polls; Rudy has led or at least been statistically tied in every poll I've seen in the past two and a half years. Most importantly, national security was not as major of a concern in 1995, and even if it were, Wilson didn't have credentials on that issue that set him apart from his rivals, whereas Rudy became a national hero for his leadership on Sept. 11 and national security will be the most dominant issue of the Republican primary. So, in summation, it would be short-sighted to look at the Wilson experience and suggest it has any value as far as predicting the likely outcome of Giuliani's campaign. Perhaps the skeptics will be proven right and there is simply no way Rudy can win as a pro-choicer. But, it's worth acknowledging that we really are in uncharted territory when it comes to Giuliani. There has simply never been a pro-choice Republican candidate in the last 30 years who has been as strong in as many other areas as Rudy.