The American Spectator‘s Jennifer Rubin has a piece in the NY Observer about Rudy’s curious appeal to social voters–or at least, their lack of resistance to a pro-abortion-rights front-runner. Jim Antle takes issue with a few points on AmSpec‘s blog.
I find myself disagreeing with Jim in this instance. He points to, among other things, the division of the social vote among Thompson, Romney, Huckabee, and McCain. (Though how much of that vote is McCain really getting?) But this division is not so unusual: back in ’95 and ’96, social voters and the Religious Right was divided between Dole, Buchanan, Keyes, Dornan, and one or two other candidates or near-candidates. Yet the Religious Right had both the will and the means in 1995 to draw a line in the sand against a pro-choice nominee, telling Colin Powell in no uncertain terms what kind of reception he would get if he entered the race, and giving similar warnings to Arlen Specter and Pete Wilson. Notably, all three of those social liberals chose not to get into the race.
The closest thing we’ve seen in ’07 to a Religious Right excommunication of a Republican hopeful has actually been James Dobson’s crack about Fred Thompson not being a real Christian. That apparently didn’t hurt Thompson and hasn’t amounted to much in the race. Social voters and their leaders really have been noticeably reluctant to take on Giuliani. Why?
In part, surely for the reasons Rubin outlines: like most Republicans, they want to win in ’08 rather than nominate a more conservative candidate who might lose. (Even though, as I point out below, Giuliani might not have much better prospects than anyone else.) Rubin has come in for criticism for suggesting that social voters have become a bit more realistic about presidential abortion politics in recent years; Antle is right to point out that the judicial strategy of pro-lifers, for example, has not changed very much in the last decade. What has changed, however, in a more “realistic” direction is the character of the social voters’ political champions: this year their paladins are Brownback and Huckabee, both professional pols, the one a dour senator, the other a folksy governor. In the mid-90s, the champion was Pat Buchanan, who was not a professional politician, but who could galvanize social voters in a way that Huck and Brownback cannot. My bet is that if Buchanan were in the race, there would be a rally of social voters against Giuliani–Buchanan would draw some hard lines and would go straight for Giuliani’s jugular. Even a Buchanan manque like Keyes would pick a fight. But the professional political types like Huck and Brownback don’t have the spirit for it.
(Of course, Buchanan today would pick up not only the social vote, but also the antiwar vote that Ron Paul attracts and the anti-immigration vote. That might not make him the frontrunner, but he’d be a top contender, with the sharpest contrast to Giuliani and he’d cast the impostor Romney into the shade. PJB is precisely the man the Right needs now, and he’s precisely the man they don’t have. I’m politically closer to Ron Paul than to Pat; still, I can’t help thinking about how things might have been. Better yet, imagine a Buchanan/Paul ’08 ticket…)
Antle acknowledges Rubin’s point about the extent to which foreign policy has eclipsed abortion and sex as the big issues on conservatives’ minds. I think Rubin is correct as well that anti-Clinton sentiment has also surpassed those issues: during the 1990s, hatred of the Clintons, far more than commitment to any social or economic agenda, became the paramount quality of movement conservatism, just as in the Bush years a defense of the Iraq War and, to a lesser extent, the Bush-Cheney axis became paramount. Going into ’08, both of these conditions have combined to give Giuliani a pass from many conservatives.
And one reason, I suspect, that the kingpins of the Religious Right haven’t gone after Giuliani the way they went after Powell in ’95 is that they know they can’t stop him. They don’t want to pick a fight that they might lose. Even if they could deny Giuliani the nomination, which they could, they would not be able to brand his as a nonconservative; Giuliani is so authoritarian that conservatives adore him, especially during the war on terror, to such a degree that his abortion-rights and pro-gay stances don’t matter. (This was true even to a limited extent back in the ’90s, when Giuliani’s authoritarianism in New York City appealed to certain conservatives despite their opposition to him on abortion and gay rights. What was a minority conservative mindset back then has, since 9/11, become the majority conservative mindset today.)
There is, of course, another important point that neither Rubin nor Antle raises: a lot of social voters simply don’t know that Giuliani for pro-abortion. As the New York Times reported a while back:
Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, said there was some evidence that many Republican voters still did not know much about Mr. Giuliani’s positions on the social issues. Pew recently asked Republicans which of the presidential candidates came closest to their views on abortion, and found that half said they simply did not know.
“This goes to the point that people aren’t focused on this yet,” Mr. Kohut said.
Phyllis Schlafly, who has been in the trenches of the anti-abortion movement for a very long time, said Mr. Giuliani’s high standing in the polls was being vastly overinterpreted.
“A lot of people just don’t know about his background,” Mrs. Schlafly said. “New York is like another country to most of the rest of the country.”
Of course, it’s easy for social voters to remain ignorant of where Giuliani actually stands on abortion if the media organs of the conservative movement downplay his heterodoxy. Dobson has indeed gone after Giuliani, but his remarks have not, so far as I can tell, been very widely reported or had much traction. That suggests another angle on what’s happening this year: the Dobsonites might be as anti-Giuliani now as they were anti-Powell in ’95/’96, but the conservative media transmission belt–the magazines and pundit class–is giving the authoritarian Giuliani a pass that they did not give Powell. There are some markedly pro-Giuliani people among the New York/Washington, D.C. “conservative” pundit class, which tends to cut down on how much criticism of his positions on social issues makes it into print. (Or onto Fox News.) In ’95/’96 it wasn’t just that the Campaign for Working Families–wasn’t that what Bauer’s outfit was called?–came out against Powell, Specter, and Wilson, it was that they had the support of the conservative media when they did so. They don’t have that support against Giuliani.