Rudy’s First Trimester

philipburkerudyandmikefinal Rudy’s First TrimesterIt isn’t so much that Rudy Giuliani’s tripped over the issue of abortion, which everyone knew was going to be a difficult one for a pro-choice candidate to navigate in the context of a pro-life primary.

It’s the amount of time it’s taking him to get back up.

Like John Kerry’s fatally slow response to attacks on his military record in the 2004 Presidential contest, Mr. Giuliani’s botched attempt at finessing the issue at the first Republican debate on May 3—he said he’d be “O.K.” if Roe v. Wade were repealed, but also O.K. if it weren’t—has led to a remarkably long recovery period. (Nearly two weeks and, arguably, counting.)

Which, in turn, has led to unprecedented doubts about the capability of the former Mayor and his staff to run an effective national campaign.

“No offense to those guys, but what do they know about Republican Presidential politics?” said Tony Fabrizio, a Republican pollster unaffiliated with any candidate. “And I think it’s all a reflection of Rudy. Any campaign would know that they were in trouble by keeping slipping on the same banana peel, but not these guys. They are going to prove how right they are. They are going to explain it.”

Mr. Fabrizio argued that instead of admitting differences on social issues with the Republican base and moving on to his perceived strengths, like matters of national security, the campaign’s “too-cute-by-half” explanations only had the effect of drawing more attention to the areas of disagreement.

“He’s a lawyer, and he thinks that the average voter is going to find the nuance—they’re not,” said Mr. Fabrizio. “Instead of finding a way not to focus and trip up on those differences, they have managed to trip, fall, stumble and just continually focus on those differences.”

For months, Mr. Giuliani tried to express a position on abortion that was calibrated finely enough to appease conservative primary voters without explicitly contradicting his past liberal positions. He was pro-choice as Mayor, but as President he would only appoint strict constructionist judges in the mold of abortion opponents like Justice Antonin Scalia.

That argument melted in the face of a predictable question about abortion at the May 3 debate.

Then, on May 7, before the story about Mr. Giuliani’s dramatic waffle even had a chance to fade, the Politico reported that the former Mayor on several occasions made financial contributions to one of the country’s leading abortion providers, Planned Parenthood.

The following morning, conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham asked Mr. Giuliani why he had contributed to the group.

“Because Planned Parenthood makes information availability,” Mr. Giuliani answered. “It’s consistent with my position.”

Just like that, Mr. Giuliani’s Republican opponents had yet another statement to criticize.

On May 9, adversity began to rain down on Mr. Giuliani from the heavens, when Benedict XVI suggested to reporters flying with him on the papal plane that he supported the excommunication of Catholic politicians who supported abortion rights. The cover of the Daily News the next day showed the former Mayor glaring into the face of the former Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the headline “Rudy vs. Pope.”

By then, it had become entirely clear that the Giuliani campaign’s grey approach to a black-and-white issue had failed. In an address to a conservative audience at Houston Baptist University on Friday, the former Mayor sounded a more defiant, frank tone than he had previously, admitting that his views on abortion differed significantly with the base of his party, but arguing that if Republicans didn’t vote on more pressing issues like national security, they would lose the general election.

“If we don’t find a way of uniting around broad principles that will appeal to a large segment of this country, if we can’t figure that out, we are going to lose this election,” Mr. Giuliani said.

The change pleased at least one prominent Giuliani fund-raiser.

“The idea of being direct and candid is the better way to go,” said the supporter, who asked for anonymity because he was expressing views different from the campaign’s official spin. “Because in the eight months between now and the beginning of the primary season, there is still plenty of time to ask questions, and there have to be clear views expressed.”

Mr. Giuliani’s advisors argue that it’s too soon to make sweeping judgments about the effectiveness of the campaign.