Right-Wingers Take First Bite Out of Rudy

The Rudy Giuliani backlash has begun.

A week after the former New York Mayor gave his final speech for President George W. Bush and emerged as the poll-tested front-runner for the Republican nomination in 2008, the party’s religious conservatives have opened fire. Claiming Nov. 2 as their own victory, conservative leaders are moving to pre-empt any resurgence of their party’s socially liberal wing.

In interviews this week, an official at the Family Research Council suggested that religious conservatives would defect to a third party if Mr. Giuliani won the Presidential nomination in four years, and a prominent conservative activist unleashed a broadside at the former Mayor.

“We don’t want to nominate The New York Times ‘ favorite Republican,” said Richard Viguerie, the Virginia-based direct-mail guru who helped create the modern conservative movement in the 1960’s. Mr. Viguerie pointed to Mr. Giuliani’s stance on abortion, gay rights and gun control, as well as the former Mayor’s personal life.

“Here is a man who was getting to be almost a laughing-stock in terms of his marital problems, his open adultery, and was basically resurrected by Sept. 11,” said Mr. Viguerie, whose searing mailings helped raise money for Mr. Giuliani during the Mayor’s abortive 2000 Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Now he’s going to lead the Republican Party, the party of values? And he’s wrong on all the values. Not some of them-all of them, basically.”

Mr. Giuliani’s plans remain undetermined. One former aide said that the former Mayor barred all Presidential speculation in his presence-but it’s an open secret that he’s considering a run for the nation’s highest office. If he does run, he will test both the limits of a Republican Party that has nominated pro-life candidates since 1980, and the value of the enduring political capital he earned on Sept. 11, 2001. This year, he expended a portion of that capital to help re-elect Mr. Bush, playing the full-throated surrogate with a stump speech that merged a lucid history of terrorism with scorching attacks on Senator John Kerry’s ability to deal with the threat. Mr. Giuliani’s work didn’t even end on Election Day. The next morning, on one hour’s sleep, he was on television again, telling Mr. Kerry his time was up.

“Senator Kerry could do something good for the country. He could be a statesman. He could do what Richard Nixon did [in 1960, when he conceded the Presidential campaign to John F. Kennedy rather than contest possible voter fraud in Illinois],” Mr. Giuliani said on CBS’s Early Show . “I mean, he could say, ‘This can’t be done.'”

Then Mr. Kerry conceded, and Mr. Giuliani was apparently one of the day’s great winners. A week later, he would be fending off rumors that he would replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General.

“I’m not interested,” Mr Guiliani emphasized to The Observer on November 9th, a few hours after Mr. Ashcroft’s resignation.

But the party that emerged from Mr. Bush’s re-election effort wasn’t Mr. Giuliani’s Republican Party. It was Mr. Bush’s and Karl Rove’s Republican Party, now more than ever. The pollsters are still untangling the numbers and arguing over the meaning of the fact that 22 percent of voters said “moral values” was their most important issue. The question remains whether this finding signifies opposition to abortion and gay rights, or simply approval of Mr. Bush. But the exit polls do show that among the “moral values” voters, 80 percent favored the President.

The meaning is clear: While moral issues may not have swung the general election, they were key to the President’s Republican base, and will likely remain so during the Republican primary four years from now, when Mr. Bush will be barred from seeking re-election.

“People of faith played a big role” in Mr. Bush’s victory, Mr. Rove said on Meet the Press . “They saw in him a vision and values and ideas that they supported, and he’ll pursue those in office.”

Christian groups have long been a potent force in Republican primaries. In 1988, Pat Robertson shocked the party by winning the Iowa caucus. Now that network of Christian groups-confident in victory and newly mobilized by opposition to gay marriage-is stronger than ever.

A week after the election, the Reverend Jerry Falwell launched the Faith and Values Coalition, an updated version of his Moral Majority with the declared goal of maintaining “the national momentum gained through [values voters] who swept President Bush back into office.” The organization’s first press release stated three goals, among them “the election of another socially- fiscally- and politically-conservative president in 2008.”

On the most charged social issues, Mr. Giuliani simply isn’t conservative-one of the reasons he did so well in New York City. The last time the former Mayor had to lay out a platform was in 2000, before his Senate campaign ended prematurely with an announcement that he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer. At the time, Mr. Giuliani offered a set of positions on social issues that would put him at the left-center of the national Democratic Party. He had a record of supporting gay rights in New York, including strong protections under city law, and he’d appeared in drag at a 1997 dinner. A former federal prosecutor, he backed strict gun controls. And he staunchly backed abortion rights. In the face of pressure from the New York State Conservative Party, Mr. Giuliani refused to back banning the procedure known as “partial birth” abortion, which the Senate banned last year by a 64-33 margin.

“His leadership after 9/11 is admirable, but when you look at his positions on the social issues, he’s not consistent with the Republican base,” said Connie Gordon Earll, a senior policy analyst at James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.

Little of that came up this year, as Mr. Giuliani criss-crossed America on behalf of Mr. Bush. This year, the issue was security, and Mr. Giuliani was Mr. Bush’s most important surrogate. In the last week of the campaign, the former Mayor brought his lucid, cutting act to a dozen states, from this year’s battlegrounds of Ohio and Florida to the crucial primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

“He was out nonstop,” said his spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel.

The ex-Mayor’s hard work won him friends in President Bush’s camp.

“We called him a super-surrogate,” said Kevin Madden, who served as a spokesman for the Bush campaign. “You could put him in the rural parts of Pennsylvania, you could put him in the urban parts of Ohio. He was larger than life.”

The Mayor’s work on local campaigns and the advertisements he made for Republican candidates since 2002 also won him friends across Republican officialdom, particularly in the Republican Party’s Deep South strongholds. His new allies, said a top Giuliani aide, are people who could help to mute a conservative reaction to the former Mayor-people like South Carolina’s Senator Lindsay Graham, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, and freshman Senators David Vitter of Louisiana and John Thune of South Dakota.

“There’s going to be some conservatives who focus on the tiffs they have with Rudy, but a lot of conservatives are going to focus on the fact that he has been a larger-than-life figure,” Senator Graham told The Observer . “People admire the fact that he was one of the toughest-on-crime people in the history of the country, and they admire the fact that he cut taxes in a place where the political thing to do is raise taxes.

“Abortion is an important issue, but it’s not the decisive issue,” he said.

The Jesus Factor?

Others who support Mr. Giuliani think he can make his way back into the Republican mainstream by changing his positions on social issues.

“Rudy has got to come to Jesus on this question,” said one of his supporters, speaking of the abortion issue. “He’s going to have to come around at the very least to partial birth, parental consent, informed consent. There’s going to have to be some growth, as we say, on this matter.”

But if conservatives are forced to accept someone from outside their movement, they’ll face a strong appeal from Senator John McCain of Arizona. He lacks Mr. Giuliani’s record of unflagging loyalty to Mr. Bush, but he has also quietly amassed a solidly pro-life voting record.

“Rudy’s dilemma is that if he maintains those positions, he will receive the ire of the religious right. If he changes them, he will reduce his prestige as a straight shooter,” said Marshall Wittmann, a close advisor to Mr. McCain and now a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute.

“McCain’s strength is that he has what Rudy has in terms of star power, but he also is good on those issues,” he said.

Mr. McCain has all but dropped out of sight in recent days, as Mr. Bush celebrates his victory and begins to lay out a second-term agenda. Mr. Giuliani, by contrast, has been everywhere. “The media demands for him were relentless,” said Ms. Mindel. This publicity has had the effect of drawing the attention of the Christian conservatives who are claiming credit for Mr. Bush’s victory, and who are in no mood to compromise. When another Northeastern social liberal, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, suggested that he wouldn’t confirm anti-abortion judges, conservatives deluged Capitol Hill with e-mails and telephone calls to keep Mr. Specter from ascending to the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a battle that remains open.

“The Specter dust-up is an early warning to Rudy. It tells him to be careful of the land mines,” said Fred Siegel, a Cooper Union professor whose forthcoming book, The Prince of the City , focuses on Mr. Giuliani. “If I’m Rudy, I’m taking careful notes on what happens to Specter.”

Grover Norquist, the conservative strategist, called Mr. Giuliani a contender. And he suggested that the Mayor’s conservative critics might be protesting too much.

“If you believed he was never going anywhere, why talk about it?” he asked.

Four years can change everything. In 2000, nobody expected this year’s election to be fought over huge deficits and a war in the Middle East. To the extent that security remains a dominant issue, Mr. Giuliani will remain a potent candidate. He’ll always have the wind of the New York media at his back. But his Lifetime Achievement Award from New York magazine may not mean much in Oshkosh. And the conservatives are mobilized to pre-empt Mr. Giuliani’s rise.

“He would be completely unacceptable as a President, or in a number of roles in an administration,” said Tom McClusky, the director of intergovernmental affairs at the Family Research Council. “People are talking about doing a third-party split if something like [Mr. Giuliani’s nomination] were to happen. And then we’d have a President from New York, but it would be Hillary Rodham Clinton.”