The Magazine

Let's Make a Deal

Social conservatives, Rudy Giuliani, and the end of the litmus test.

Mar 12, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 25 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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The 2006 midterms, aka "the bloodbath," brought more people over. Texas pollster David Hill, writing in the Hill, observed that "Giuliani might bargain with the right. He's a transactional politician who might welcome the entreaty, and concede even more than McCain." Actually, Giuliani had been dealing already, by taking the bloggers and pundits' advice. In 2006, he campaigned for many pro-life candidates, spoke out against judicial activism, and cited the likes of Samuel Alito and John Roberts as the kind of judges he wanted to see on the bench. There has been some resistance, but since the start of this year a sizable cadre of social conservatives have declared either their willingness to consider supporting the mayor, or their intention not to write him off. Since Giuliani emerged as a possible candidate, people have known he would have to deal with the base of his party, but everyone thought this would involve a supplicant bending of the knee and begging leave of the Republican voters he had dismayed. No one imagined that so much of that base would come looking for him, and then make it their business to hand him a strategy. But that is what they have done.

Why has this happened now, after decades of litmus-test dictates? Four reasons come to mind.

(1) The War, Stupid: There is the war, which overwhelms everything as the major issue in the eyes of the base. No group in the country backs the war on terror as fervently as social conservatives, whose main criticism of the president's policy is that it has not been aggressive enough. To them, Rudy is the ultimate warrior, a man who not only survived 9/11 and rallied the city, but whose success in routing the gangs of New York is a template for engaging the Islamic terrorists, and an indication that he has the resolve and the relentlessness to carry this bloody task off.

They see him as a more ruthless version of George W. Bush, someone who would not have consented to less-than-aggressive rules of engagement; who would have taken Falluja the first time, and not have had to come back later; who would not have let Sadr escape when he had him; who would not have been fazed by whining over Abu Ghraib and Club Gitmo, and would have treated critics of the armed forces and of the mission with the same impatience he showed critics of the police in New York. As nothing else, the terror war sits at a nexus of issues dear to the heart of the base: the need to use force when one's country is threatened; the need to make judgments between good and evil; the need to protect and assert the moral codes of the Judeo-Christian tradition; the need to defend the ideals of the West.

"For a majority of the GOP primary electorate, it is the war, the war, the war (and judges)," writes the influential radio host and blogger Hugh Hewitt. "The war on terror hasn't just changed Giuliani's profile as a crisis-leader," writes columnist Jonah Goldberg. "It's changed the attitudes of many Americans, particularly conservatives, about the central crisis facing the country. It's not that pro-lifers are less pro-life. . . . It's that they really, really believe the war on terror is for real. At conservative conferences, on blogs, and on talk radio, pro-life issues have faded in their passion and intensity. . . . Taken together, terrorism, Iraq, and Islam have become the No. 1 social issue." And the earth surely moved on February 21, when the writer Maggie Gallagher, as tough and principled as they come on abortion and marriage, allowed in her syndicated column that she just might consider the mayor. "I never voted for Rudy when I lived in New York City for one simple reason: abortion. . . . Why would I even think of changing my mind? Two things: national security, and Hillary Clinton's Supreme Court appointments." Keep your eyes out for more of these eye-popping moments. This one will not be the last.