We've always known Rudy Giuliani faced a tricky-to-impossible balancing act among Iowa's rabidly pro-life caucus electorate – the same folks who gave Pat Robertson 25 percent of their vote (well ahead of the sitting Vice-President of the United States) in 1988. Indeed, this is one of the chief reasons the former mayor has opted not to contest next month's Ames Straw Poll, a traditional test of early organizing strength in the state.
But he's not giving up on Iowa altogether, knowing that a strong second (or even third) place showing in January might still be interpreted as a momentum-building "win" that would bolster his standing in subsequent primary states. And, for that matter, he doesn't seem to be giving up on the Christian conservatives in the state.
Campaigning in Council Bluffs yesterday, the heart of conservative western Iowa, Giuliani pledged to appoint "strict constructionist judges, because judges interpret the Constitution. They should not be allowed to make it up." The language is significant because, well, can you think of a single pro-choice politician who has ever talked of appointing "strict constructionists" to the courts? Only after making that point did Giuliani add that “the abortion question is not a litmus test. Roe against Wade is not a litmus test; no particular case is a litmus test."
Many would consider those statements flatly contradictory, since it is generally understood that "strict constructionists" favor rescinding Roe. Giuliani, of course, used the "strict constructionist" line earlier this year, before his campaign realized that he would have to come clean about his pro-choice position, which he finally did back in May.
The most likely explanation for what Giuliani is doing now is that he sees an unexpected opening among social conservatives.
Of the big-name Republican candidates, John McCain had the most reliably anti-abortion record; but he's tuna fish now, and anyway the right never completely trusted him for other reasons. And there are still questions about the sincerity of Mitt Romney's "conversion" on the abortion issue – and on so many others – in 2004. Most notably, though, is that the news of Giuliani's remarks in Iowa coincides with confirmation – finally – that Fred Thompson, who was supposed to fill the vacuum on the right, was indeed a paid lobbyist for an abortion rights group last decade.
In that context, no one is perfect. Giuliani seems to be calculating that for conservatives sympathetic to him on other issues, his position on abortion will be good enough.