Rudy Giuliani: the leading GOP candidate

Rudy GiulianiI woke up the other morning and former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani was the Republican front-runner for the 2008 presidential race. How in the world did that happen? Heavy media coverage of “Rudy’s rise” came in over the weekend — first in a Washington Post A1 piece by Dan Balz and second in a Newsweek cover article by Jonathan Darman.

As an aside, does it look like Newsweek and the Post look at each other for direction in terms of stories? The whole Army medical centers scandal was on the cover of Newsweek at the same time the Post was rolling out its expose. I know they’re owned by the same company, but aren’t their news budgets kept separate? As Terry pointed out to me, maybe spouses talk at night.

Anyway, back to America’s Mayor. The big question for journalists covering his candidacy is whether Giuliani can garner the support of religious conservatives, who have come to be defined as the core of the GOP. There are two sources of disgust most religious conservatives would have for Giuliani. One is his views on the culture wars. Supporting abortion rights and gay rights isn’t going to win too many friends in Colorado Springs.

The second source, and perhaps more pernicious, is Giuliani’s personal morality. Newsweek‘s Darman drew out that aspect using a quote from Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention:

As Giuliani campaigns to protect the country from disaster, he will have to account for calamities from his own past and of his own making. Twice divorced, he has lived a life more to the tastes of New York tabloid editors than evangelical voters in South Carolina. “I can guarantee you that the majority of Southern Baptists will not vote for Giuliani,” says Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. “President Truman said he would never hire someone who cheated on his wife, because if a person breaks his marriage oath he could also break his oath of office.”

Giuliani isn’t talking about it either. He is known to be obsessive regarding the coverage he receives and has a history of being combative with reporters. Those covering his campaign should not allow that attitude to keep them from asking questions in this realm, though. Just as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith is relevant to his campaign, Giuliani’s personal past, and more obviously his stance on the culture wars, is relevant to his candidacy.

Everyone knows that Giuliani is a no-nonsense kind of guy who likes to get things done. The man doesn’t suffer fools. He is a Catholic. With those factors in mind, how would Giuliani address the question of captured suspected terrorists? What are his views on torture and indefinite detention? Those issues do not rank high right now in the trinity of issues for religious conservatives (abortion, gays and stem cells), but they will come up, and knowing his position on these matters could tip the scales for a segment of the pew vote.

Giuliani also lacks a “compassionate conservative” agenda. This was a hallmark of President Bush’s campaign, and is what drew many religious-minded people to support him and believe he was genuinely one of them. The type of domestic agenda Giuliani is inclined to bring into office has yet to be covered in the big media, but Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam cornered it in a recent piece in The Weekly Standard that brings us the term “respect conservatism”:

Giuliani, by contrast, has always been a “respect” conservative. Delivering safe streets to New Yorkers wasn’t an act of magnanimity, but rather an obligation. And, as Giuliani made clear, citizens and public servants were expected to fulfill their obligations as well. Anyone who failed to abide by this basic contract, whether a petty thief or a police commander who failed to meet crime-reduction targets, would be held accountable.

… An emblematic moment came in July 1999 when Giuliani, increasingly unpopular over a series of police shootings, faced off on his call-in radio program against Margarita Rosario, the mother of a young man who had been shot and killed by two detectives four years earlier. Rather than accept Rosario’s version of events, Giuliani challenged her at every turn, carefully recounting the details of her son’s encounter with the police and his long rap sheet. At one point, he bluntly suggested the blame for her son’s death might lie with her own poor parenting: “Maybe you should ask yourself some questions about the way he was brought up and the things that happened to him.”

It’s difficult to imagine a “compassionate conservative” saying anything like this. And such impolitic honesty helps explain why Giuliani spent much of his second term as an unpopular figure — in spite of plunging crime rates and welfare rolls, and New York’s economic comeback — before 9/11 transformed him into “America’s mayor.” Once Giuliani tamed the ungovernable city, he suddenly seemed too tough and hard-edged even for New York.

Giuliani’s personal life, his views on abortion rights, gay rights and stem cells will get a lot of media attention in the coming weeks as he sorts out what it is like to be the leading GOP candidate for 2008. But reporters could find a wealth of under-covered material in Giuliani’s view of government (why no more compassionate conservatism?) and on the war on terror (to torture or not to torture?) that resonates deeply with large sections of the pew vote.

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  • Hans

    Here’s a great article from the Onion that I think deftly satirizes today’s view of Guiliani.

    click here for funny!

  • Ransom

    I’ll respectfully disagree with Mr. Land regarding the Southern Baptists. Will some of them not vote for a candidate Giuliani? Certainly. Will many vote for him? Yes, knowing that not voting would be essentially giving a vote to his opponent, who would most assuredly be far more liberal than the mayor.

    His pledge to appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Alito and Roberts (and probably Giuliani’s close friend Scalia as well) will win him some support.

    As a Christian, a political conservative, a New Yorker, and even an NRA member, I’d certainly consider seriously Mr. Giuliani.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    What will really hurt Giuliani is a video he made a few years ago with Donald Trump. In it Rudy made an excellent drag queen. It was apparently all a joke and a spoof, but I am sure if he gets the R. nomination and the Dems fear their boy-or girl- will lose–we will see that video ad nauseum.

  • mateo

    He’s showing the same natural leadership, and speaking the same language of strength and victory, that Ronald Reagan did in 79, another time when it seemed the United States was getting it’s butt whupped by pert near everyone everywhere on the planet.
    R. Giuliani claims HE can win the War on Islamo-Fascism, and He claims he can – in so many words -PURGE the U.S. of It’s RIFF RAFF. should we believe him?

  • Jerry

    should we believe him

    That’s the question, no matter which candidate you favor, republican or democratic. Remember 2000 when many people thought there was little difference between Bush and Gore? Way back, Nixon promised a secret plan to end the Vietnam war. There are many other examples. Even if a politician means his or her promises, events overtake them.

    That said, I don’t believe political promises, especially in an election year. I look to the person’s record to try to decide who to vote for.

    One thing I am sure of: we’re entering a period that will keep all the pundits very, very happy. Having both races open with interesting people on both sides is like manna from heaven for the politically inclined.

  • Jinzang

    If the issue of torture and indefinite detention come up in the Republican primary I will keel over and die of shock.

    It used to be said that no divorced man could be elected president. Since President Reagan that rule has been shattered. Other than Governor Romney, all the leading Republican candidates have been divorced. Correct me if I’m wrong, but none of the leading Democratic candidates have been. This is not a liability for Mayor Giuliani alone.

  • bach

    Can we vote on the basic of a person sin,or the weekness of his opponent? Do we vote with the mind of Christ,or the mind of the conserative world riew. It’s spooky out here.Where have all the real christian gone?

  • Jerry

    Google news popped this story up tonight. Religious writers should also have a field day
    this year:

    Edwards: Jesus Would Be ‘Appalled’

    Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards says Jesus would be appalled at how the United States has ignored the plight of the suffering, and that he believes children should have private time to pray at school.

  • mattk

    “He is a Catholic.”

    If he is twice divorced is he really Catholic? To be a Roman Catholic doesn’t one have to be in communion with a Roman Catholic bishop? And doesn’t the Roman Catholic Church automatically ex-communicate a member who gets divorced and remarried?

    Calling Giuliani a Catholic makes about as much sense as calling Frances Kissling a Catholic. It might be better to describe him as someone who used to be Catholic and still holds some affinity for the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Larry Rasczak

    “before 9/11 transformed him into “America’s mayor.”

    Lets talk about the elephant in the middle of the room here.

    If the FBI had stopped Mohammed Atta and his friends, Rudy Giuliani would be hosting a radio talk show, or teaching law part time. His political career was over 6AM on the morning of September 11th, 2001. By 11AM he was Presidental Timber again.

    On that day (when even the Democrats saying “NOW I’m glad that Bush won.”) Giuliani showed that he does indeed have leadership ability and he won the trust of the American People. Many on the right love him because they understand that, having had to evacuate from the WTC himself, he has the sort of personal understanding of the War on Terror most in D.C. lack, and they assume this translates into a personal willingness to agressively fight the terrorists, that other candidates lack.

    When those of us who are lucky enough or blessed enough to live outside of NYC think of Mayor Giuliani, we think of him walking north from the burning WTC, doing the famious moving press conference as ash fills the air around him.

    We don’t think of 3 wives, ugly divorces, or him in drag with Donald Trump… at least not yet. 18, 19 months from now that could be very different.

    I think it is wise to point out that it is still WAY to early for any of this to be taken seriously. The ONLY reason the race has started this soon is that political consultants have to pay rent, mortagae and tution in the off years too, and they got really sick of having to fight for the chance to do Local Mayor races in years that end in 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9. Well I shouldn’t say ONLY reason, the media likes to cover the “horse race” too.

    But there are still 18 months to go. We fought the entire Spanish American War in less time than that.

  • Adam Greenwood

    Giuliani = not my guy.

    The war on terror has a huge moral and cultural dimension is smoking crack. Radical Islam succeeds in the Muslim world by convincing Muslims that accepting any degree of tolerance, democracy, and rights means accepting a total moral vacuum. I think a President Giuliani would probably play right into that. Photos of Giuliani in drag circulating in the Muslim world would be as damaging as a battlefield defeat.

  • mattk

    “…in drag with Donald Trump…”

    Is it just me, or can you see this on the cover of The New Yorker, too.