The Magazine

Rudy at Regent

Giuliani gets a standing ovation at Pat Robertson's university.

Jul 9, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 40 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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It was June 26, and Rudy Giuliani was surprised. This was his first visit to Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, the headquarters of televangelist and onetime GOP presidential candidate Pat Robertson's media and education efforts. The Regent campus was much larger than Giuliani had expected.

The former New York City mayor was at Regent to participate in the school's executive leadership speaking series. For the pro-choice Giuliani, the speech at Regent demonstrated his willingness to campaign anywhere, including before religious conservatives, for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Robertson, the host of the 700 Club, introduced Giuliani to the paying audience of more than 600 people. The two embraced. "I'm not going to give a political speech," Giuliani said. The crowd laughed. Instead Giuliani delivered his speech on leadership.

Giuliani likes lists. In addition to his "12 Commitments to the American People," a set of policy goals he outlined a few weeks ago, the mayor has "Six Principles of Leadership": knowing what you believe, optimism, courage, relentless preparation, teamwork, and communication. At Regent, Giuliani discussed each. Then he brought up his presidential campaign. "Don't expect that you'll agree with me on everything, because that would be unrealistic," Giuliani said. "But if you agree with me on enough things, and you think I have the ability to lead, then maybe I'm the person you'd support."

He wasn't finished. "That's the way I've kind of been approaching this campaign," Giuliani went on. "It's not about one issue. It's about many issues. If it is about one issue, there is one issue that dominates our present; it's not an issue of our making. And that's why I call it the terrorists' war on us. The one issue that dominates is the fact that Islamic terrorists are fighting to kill us. They've succeeded in doing it, and they want to do it again. . . . If this is a one-issue election, it's about remaining on offense against terrorists." Giuliani received a standing ovation.

Then he took questions from the audience. Giuliani's first interlocutor asked how the mayor incorporates his Judeo-Christian beliefs into his governing style. Other questions dealt with immigration and the war on terror. The social issues hardly came up. That wasn't the case when Giuliani spoke to the press afterwards, however. The first question came from a correspondent for the lefty online magazine Salon. It was about abortion.

And so it goes. The press still hasn't figured out Giuliani, who continues to lead in the Real Clear Politics average of national GOP presidential polls and in polls taken in many primary states. The press and large parts of the political establishment assume that Giuliani's pro-choice position and support for stem cell research and gay rights disqualify him for the Republican nomination. According to this line of thinking, most GOP voters are still unaware of his positions on these issues, and when they find out, they'll go elsewhere.

The reality is more complicated. Religious and social conservatives greet Giuliani warmly when he appears before them. "In my opinion, it was a smash appearance and people were very high on Rudy and what he had to say," Robertson said in a televised interview after the Regent speech. "He did a great job." Giuliani's May 11 speech at Houston Baptist College, in which he straightforwardly declared himself pro-choice, received a standing ovation--a fact the Washington Post left unmentioned. When Giuliani takes questions from conservative audiences, abortion rarely comes up. A campaign spokesman estimates that only one out of every 15 questions posed to Hizzoner deals with a social issue.

Still, Giuliani wants to appeal to social issues voters. He's supported social conservatives in the past, campaigning in 2006 for Sen. Rick Santorum and former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed (both lost). He does not want to antagonize the so-called values voters. He's pledged to reduce the number of abortions and appoint strict constructionists to the bench, and says he won't attempt to change the GOP's pro-life platform.

There are three prongs to Giuliani's social conservative strategy. The first is to stress the war on terror, including the war in Iraq. Support for the war on terror is something Giuliani shares with social conservatives. That's why he often says that the Democrats are "in denial" about the terrorist threat. It's why keeping America "on offense" against jihadism is his first commitment.