I heard a commentator on CNN the other night arguing that Rudy Giuliani, if he wants to become a factor in this race, needs to appeal to the GOP’s conservative base. Not hardcore evangelicals and others who care only (or primarily) about social issues (and hence support Huckabee), but rather National Review conservatives, Rush Limbaugh conservatives, etc. — conservatives who oppose abortion rights, gay rights, the coarsening of the culture, and so forth, but who also care just as much about limited government, low taxes, the war on terror, etc.
That caveat notwithstanding, we are talking about social conservatives here (just not single-issue-voter social conservatives). And the concept of Giuliani appealing to social conservatives seems ridiculous at first — everybody knows Rudy is the cross-dressing, gay-loving, baby-killing former mayor of godless Gotham, right? — but I actually think it’s right. (Which, given my track record this election season, undoubtedly means it’s wrong.)
Consider: with Thompson out, and McCain and Huckabee regarded as apostates by much of the base, it appears that conservatives now have but one choice: Mitt Romney. Which is fine — he is, after all, the National Review’s choice — except that Romney strikes a lot of people as a slimy, serpentine, too-handsome-by-half, pandering flip-flopper who could give John Edwards a run for his money as the smarmiest candidate in the race. I don’t think I’m just projecting here; I think that impression is definitely out there. And it’s a problem.
Perhaps an even bigger problem is the electability issue. Romney is something of a cardboard Republican, and a poor one to boot. Not financially, of course; I mean he’s "poor" in the sense of not having a whole lot to offer in a general-election campaign where Republicans start at a huge disadvantage anyway because of the economy and Bush’s misadventures. This, I think, is a big reason why some conservatives are willing to consider holding their noses and voting for McCain: yeah, he kinda sucks at the whole conservatism thing, but at least he’s electable.
Which brings us back to Giuliani, a.k.a. "Mr. 4 Percent." Once upon a time, when Rudy was the ostensible national front-runner, electability was a big part of his appeal. Surely "America’s Mayor" could go toe-to-toe with any Democrat, even in a political environment that favors the Dems, and at least have a fighting chance. The big question with Rudy was always nominatability — sure, he could win in November, but can he get the nomination? The provisional answer appears to be no, although in fairness, he’s pretty much taken the first three weeks of the campaign off. (And people call Thompson lazy!)
Anyway… I’m not a doctrinaire conservative by any means; I agree with the right on some issues, the left on others, and neither on many others. If I were a doctrinaire conservative, though, I think I might be open to an argument from Giuliani that goes something like this:
Obviously, Giuliani couldn’t say it like that. He’d have to be
much more subtle. But I think this argument, properly made, could be a
Now, how Rudy can make it, while still holding onto his
presumed support among liberal Republicans in places like Florida,
New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California, I’m not sure. But I
think he needs to try.