Here are the three leading candidates for president in the Republican party, a party based in the South and in the interior, rural in nature, and backed in large part by social conservatives: the senior senator from Arizona, a congenital maverick with friends in the press and a habit of dissing the base of his party; the former governor of deep-blue Massachusetts, son of a Michigan governor, a Mormon who looks, sounds, and comes across as a city boy; and the former mayor of New York, the Big Apple itself, ethnic and Catholic, pro-choice and pro-gun control, married three times, and a man who--Neil Simon, where are you?--moved in with a gay friend and his partner when he was thrown out of Gracie Mansion by his estranged and enraged second wife.
None hails from the South, none looks or sounds country, none is conspicuous for traditional piety, and none is linked closely to social conservatives. At the same time, none is exactly at odds with social conservatives either. None is a moderate, in the sense of being a centrist on anything or wary of conservatives; rather, each is a strong conservative on many key issues, while having a dissident streak on a few. Each has a way of presenting conservative views that centrists don't find threatening, and projecting fairly traditional values in a language that secular voters don't fear. In a country that has been ferociously split into two near-equal camps of voters for at least the past decade, this is no small accomplishment, as it suggests the potential to cross cultural barriers, and therefore extend one's own reach. If one of these men wins, it may mark a return to broader, national parties. And the iconic map of the recent elections, with the blue states draped like a shawl over the broad, red shoulders of Middle America, may give way to more subtle designs.
For those too young to remember it clearly, things were not always like this. In 1976, eight years after Richard M. Nixon invented his "southern strategy," Democrat Jimmy Carter carried all of the South below Virginia, running as the social conservative against Gerald Ford, who backed both the ERA and abortion and carried California, Connecticut, Maine, and New Jersey, now all a deep shade of blue. On this side of the two Reagan landslides, when the Gipper pocketed everything not nailed to the floorboards, George Bush the elder took Ford's bi-coastal four, adding to them the currently deeply blue precincts of Delaware, Maryland, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. Four years later, all nine states had flipped back to the Democrats, in what seemed more a generational than a cultural or partisan passage: Bill Clinton, a boy from the Ozarks who had gone to Yale, Oxford, and Georgetown, and Bush, a Connecticut blue blood transplanted to Texas, were cross-cultural figures who could span diverse worlds.
It was between 1993 and 1995, however, that things fell apart. The Man from Hope went blue state and bi-coastal, making new friends among rock stars and film stars, drifting far left on abortion and quotas, and, in a moment that would come to seem all too symbolic, halting air traffic on the LAX runway while his tresses were coiffed by hairdresser-to-the-stars Christophe. Retribution came in the 1994 midterms, which liberals saw as "the lynching," or as "the Anschluss," or as The End of the World as It Was. Liberals on the Upper West Side compared it to Kristallnacht, and said that they feared for their lives and their country. Far worse lay ahead for them. When the Toxic Texan George W. Bush won reelection in 2004, James Atlas wrote this depiction of the "Blue State of Mind" in New York magazine: "Do you mean there's still going to be civilization? Classical music, summaries of the week's New York Times Book Review, murmurous programs on the 'Treasures of Ancient China' exhibit at the Met?"
Republican governors continued to win in big states like Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, and New Jersey, with a lot of bipartisan, crossover backing; but attention was fixed on the leaders of Congress, who all seemed to come from the sticks, with hair that looked to be cut not by Christophe but by Ma Kettle with a bowl in the parlor. Against this backdrop, it was no surprise that in the 1996 election--when a now deep-blue Bill Clinton faced laconic Bob Dole from the red state of Kansas--the outlines of the red and blue map of the 2000 election began to take shape. Clinton lost all the deep South, with the exception of Florida, while cleaning up in California and in the Northeast. The regional divide was intensified by the drama of Clinton's impeachment, which pitted the people appalled or embarrassed by Clinton's behavior against those titillated by it, or at least those who believed lying less sinful than being conservative. Forgetting conveniently that it was feminist Democrats who had perfected the art of pillorying conservative men on impropriety charges, Clinton's defenders ended by apologizing to Europe for the provincial mores of their embarrassing countrymen. The days of 1992, when Clinton still had an appeal to people named Bubba, and the elder George Bush had to be told to pretend to like pork rinds, now seemed like very old history. Then came the 2000 election, and George W. Bush and Al Gore.
On paper, both Gore and Bush seemed deceptively purple--one the son of a dirt-poor Tennessee senator, who had been raised in both Carthage and Washington; one the son of Connecticut Yankees, who had been taken to Texas at age two. But the two clans had then gone in different directions; the Gores embracing and melting into the eastern establishment, against which the younger George Bush rebelled. Republican governors--a diverse crew who had been highly successful in northern-tier venues--pushed the younger Bush forward as one of the best of their number, a reformer who had worked well with the Democrats in his state, and might have cross-cultural appeal. But to the blue states, he appeared a foreign and threatening figure, whose past life in professional sports and big oil won no respect and no allies, and whose references to God and redemption--religion had helped him overcome a drinking problem--aroused their contempt and their fear. The contrast was deepened in 2004, when Bush faced a genuine northeastern liberal, a billionaire by marriage who lived very well on his second wife's money, who skied in Sun Valley, lounged in a chateau brought over from England, and who, while Bush chopped brush in the rank heat of Crawford, Texas, windsurfed off Nantucket in brightly patterned shorts.
In the event, the results of the 2004 election were exactly the same as those of 2000, with a few small corrections that made the voting blocs still more monolithic: New Hampshire flipped to the Democrats, making the northern tier a long swath of azure; New Mexico and Iowa went to the Republicans, making the vast stretch of the heartland an unbroken sea of red. In fact, the real divide was less North vs. South or coastal vs. interior than urban vs. rural, the blue states often made so by their huge urban centers.
"There were stark differences between the largest metropolitan areas . . . and the rest of the country," Michael Barone noted after the 2000 election. Republicans suffered serious losses in the major metro areas but only small losses outside them. Most of the gains made by Clinton-Gore Democrats, he noted, could be accounted for by seven cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Washington. These metropolitan areas "were evenly split between Republicans and Democrats in the 1988 election, but gave Al Gore a 23 percent margin in 2000." Since the culture wars of the early 1990s, they have put a high floor underneath each political party, but also imposed a fairly low ceiling not too far above it that neither has been able to break through.
In both 1992 and '96, Clinton won by impressive electoral margins, but could not win 50 percent of the popular vote when running against two center-right rivals. George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 in what was essentially a statistical tie, and his 50.7 percent of the popular vote in 2004 was the highest since his father's triumph over Michael Dukakis, 16 years earlier. Clearly, a Metro Republican (or his counterpart, a Traditional Democrat), who could carry his party's core message while not viscerally antagonizing the other half of the country, would have the best chance of breaking the deadlock, and putting the rest of the map into play.
And, thanks to some flameouts in the 2006 midterms, Metro Republicans are what the party now has. McCain is the only one of the three who comes from the West, but he tends to play well with a northern audience. Running against Bush in the 2000 cycle, he won independents (his problem was with Republicans), and won primaries in New Hampshire and Michigan, where crossover votes were allowed. Urbane and urban, Romney comes from Massachusetts by way of Michigan, won as a Republican in what is perhaps the most liberal state in the Union, and has quartered his campaign in the North End of Boston, as far from the Sunbelt as is humanly possible. And no one screams New York quite as loudly as does Giuliani, who would be the most urban candidate, should he win the nomination, since Alfred E. Smith.
Giuliani would be only the fourth Roman Catholic to run for president on a major national ticket (Smith, John Kennedy, and John Kerry being the others), the third ethnic (if you count the Irish as ethnics), and only the second major candidate for president (after Dukakis) whose forebears did not come from northern Europe and did not have English as their native tongue. He is not from Dr. Howard Dean's neighborhood (Park Avenue), or from the New York of the Roosevelt cousins (whose main homes were their much-loved estates in the country). He is a New Yorker from Brooklyn, of Ellis Island as opposed to Mayflower provenance. So far the country's one "ethnic" president has been Irish, and he had been so thoroughly Anglicized by the time he was 20 that he was entirely plausible as the in-law and friend of the Devonshire family that he in reality became when his sister married the duke's elder son. Giuliani would be an energetic fiscal and law-and-order conservative running on a demographic profile that tends to strongly connect to FDR Democrats, a thing not before seen on the national level.
McCain, Romney, and Giuliani aren't quite your "normal" conservative candidates, which is both their strength and an opportunity for their party. Each could be seen as running either to the right or the left of the other two, depending on what issues are most salient. On defense, McCain is the über-hawk, and on spending, he is well to the right of the president. Then, there are the other issues, like immigration and campaign finance reform, about which the less said the better, from the point of view of the conservative base. Romney lacks the war-on-terror credentials of McCain and the mayor, but he is a fiscal conservative (who refused to raise taxes in the state of Taxachusetts), to the right of McCain and Giuliani on immigration and campaign finance reform, way to the right of Giuliani on most social issues, and on some to the right of McCain. He backs the federal amendment to outlaw gay marriage, and has fought the use of embryos for stem cell research, leading National Review's John J. Miller to observe that he has "done his best to defend the culture of life on . . . the most inhospitable terrain in the country."
The pitfall for Romney is being perceived as Slick Mitt. In 1994, when running for the Senate against Edward M. Kennedy, he made this Clintonesque statement: "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal. . . . I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it, and I sustain and support that law, and the right of a woman to make that choice." Running for governor in 2002, he defined himself personally as no longer pro-choice, but said in a survey, "Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine."
Against this background, McCain's record stands out as a model of clarity, but he has his problems with music, not words. He is the only one of the three to have been pro-life consistently, but he is also the one who in the 2000 campaign made a seemingly gratuitous attack on the religious right and its leaders, calling them "forces of evil," though he has since made his peace. Would-be supporters complain he is "tone-deaf," at least when it comes to their feelings. He jokes that the mainstream media are his base. He has recently stopped twisting his thumbs in the eyes of people who might otherwise back him, but some still resent what they see as his attitude. The Mormon and Maverick are both an odd lot when it comes to the way the base views them. And that's where the Mayor comes in.
Giuliani is not only pro-choice, but also anti-gun and gay-friendly, an urban cowboy who marches in gay rights parades (just like a Democrat), and appears in drag at a correspondents' assembly, though looking less like the plausible Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie than like Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot. This should count him out in the South, and with social conservatives--but so far, at least, it has not. How come? Because they admire him despite his stance on those litmus-test issues. Indeed, they see him in some key respects as a fellow social conservative who brought law and order to a city in crisis, the head-banging crime fighter who bonded with cops, flushed the porn shops out of Times Square, and protested loudly when a dung-draped Madonna was shown at the expense of the public at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. He has endeared himself to conservatives everywhere by taking on, and often defeating, the New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union. He is the enemy and the antithesis of the therapy culture that is at the core of the modern liberal project, the foe of relativism and friend of retribution and punishment, when it is called for. The word evil doers would not seem strange on his lips.
Giuliani's accomplishment in hosing down a sink of a city that some people think could have passed for Gomorrah has allowed him to bond with the base of his party as no other figure has done. And no one else emerged from the events of September 11 in quite the same way, as both a wartime leader and in some ennobling way as a survivor of the attacks, too. "Giuliani can't do southern preacher," wrote Hanna Rosin, the former religion writer for the Washington Post, "yet there's a current of spirituality running through his speech on the subject of 9/11, and how that day shattered and changed him [as] he stood watching debris fall from the Twin Towers, and realized that it was, in fact, people jumping. He was lost, without a plan. . . . Yet somehow he found sources of inspiration and strength. He remembered what he'd always known: 'the value of teamwork,' the need to 'be there when the going gets tough.' . . . Giuliani does not mention God, except once, in a joke. But his speech is infused with the kind of uplifting message that these days shares boundaries with preaching. 'You've got to care about people. . . . You've got to love them,' he says." What he has done is to give a religious speech that appeals to his base without alarming a larger audience. In the end, few seem to be thinking of guns, or abortion, or gays.
Professional analysts, both liberal and conservative, keep insisting that Giuliani will never survive the Republican primaries. Non-professionals sense something different. In December 2004, blogger Hugh Hewitt, who speaks frequently to groups of conservative activists, began taking informal polls of his audiences, and found Giuliani sweeping three-fourths of the field. At Real Clear Politics, Tom Bevan began polling his readers, with similar results. "I consider myself a 'religious right' person, and am nonetheless enthused about Rudy," read a typical email, and others hit notes that were similar: "I disagree with Giuliani on some issues, but I can live with honest disagreements, having tremendous respect for his character and judgment."
What's causing this temperance on the right-to-life watch? A combination of things. There's the undoubted urgency of the war and peace issue; the fact that a pro-choice Republican elected by the votes of pro-lifers and indebted to them would act differently than a pro-choice Democrat elected with the help of the abortion-rights lobbies; and the understanding that Rudy is in no way personally hostile to social conservatives. As John Podhoretz noted in the New York Post, "past 'liberal' GOP candidates and would-be candidates have sought the nomination by taking strong stands counter to the views of the party's conservative base." Unlike Rudy, "those candidates . . . were engaging in battle against the social conservatives. They were fighting a culture war within the GOP." As a law-and-order conservative, Giuliani would be unlikely to name liberals to the bench, and he has written that Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts are the kind of justices he would appoint to the Supreme Court. Will that be enough to quell the fears of some social conservatives that a Giuliani-led Republican party would be a betrayal of the issues they hold dear?
Certainly, a long string of polls taken from early in 2006 to the present seem to suggest he could thread the needle. Consistently, they show Metro Republicans beating the purer red models (among Republicans, and among social conservatives) and beating Democrats in all of the head-to-head heats. The consistency has been remarkable. In December 2005, Giuliani and McCain led all other Republicans in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup national poll. In January 2006, Giuliani beat McCain 28-22 in a poll among Georgia Republicans. In November 2006, an Opinion Research Corporation/CNN poll found Giuliani leading McCain 33-30; a Rasmussen poll found Giuliani leading McCain (and Condi Rice) 24-17-18; and a Quinnipiac University poll of 1,623 registered voters on November 27 gave Giuliani a favorability rating of 64.2 to 49 for Hillary Clinton, 58.8 for Barack Obama, and 57.7 for John McCain.
Among self-identified Republicans, Giuliani scored 71.7, ahead of both McCain and Newt Gingrich; among White Evangelicals/Born-again Christians, he scored 66.3, 8 points better than George W. Bush. A Survey USA poll taken last summer positing head-to-head contests in all 50 states between all leading contenders showed McCain and Giuliani beating Hillary Clinton in electoral landslides, 351 to 187 and 354 to 184, both holding almost all the red Bush states, flipping the blue states of Pennsylvania and Michigan, and breaking up the Democratic entrenchments in New England and in the Far West. Both "won" in Oregon, Connecticut, Maine, and Rhode Island; McCain, the reformer from the open spaces of Arizona, won the Birkenstock states of Washington, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Giuliani shook loose New Jersey (which was hit very hard on 9/11), and held on to Florida, which flipped to Hillary against John McCain. In a CBS News poll released early this year, the Metro Republicans (McCain and Giuliani) beat the conventional Democrats (John Edwards, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton) by double digits among independents, and have much lower unfavorable ratings among those in the opposite party. Polls taken almost two years out are of course not to be taken to the bank. But among people who have been celebrities for at least the last decade, and have had their flaws, strengths, and scandals exhaustively publicized, they cannot be dismissed either, and suggest consistently that candidates with a cultural pull beyond and outside of the base of their parties have a distinct, undeniable edge.
So there they all are--a hawkish war hero who holds Goldwater's seat but who charms independents; a Mormon from Michigan who will run his campaign from North Boston; and a pro-choice New Yorker who thrills southern social conservatives--all trying to be Reagan's heir. And let us recall that Reagan himself was a complex enough figure: a man who was divorced and remarried (as are McCain and Giuliani), a former film star and a recovering Democrat, from Illinois by way of Hollywood, who signed a liberal abortion bill while governor of California, was comfortable with gays in his film making milieu, and once even backed the New Deal.
Compared with this, the curriculum vitae of Barry Goldwater was a model of consistency, purity, and orthodoxy, one of the reasons Reagan won 44 and 49 states in his runs for president, while Goldwater won only six. "Prisoner of Conscience" runs the headline of a John McCain profile in a recent Vanity Fair, in which the ex-POW undergoes tortures at the hands of his base that make his five years in the Hanoi Hilton look like a month in the country, or at least like a week at Club Med. "Did I fix it?" he is quoted as having said to an aide, leaving a forum in which he stumbled over his lines on gay marriage. The answer, it seemed, was no. "John McCain has spent his whole day, this whole year, these whole last six years, trying to 'fix it,'" the story continues, "trying to make the maverick, freethinking impulses that first made him into a political star somehow compatible with the suck-it-up adherence to the orthodoxies" beloved of his supposedly close-minded base.
But the point of the piece--that the conservative base is a nest of southern-fried tyrants with no sense of nuance--falls apart when one knows that much of this base is now ga-ga for Rudy, who, so far at least, has not tried to "fix" anything, and that part of it now is looking hard at Mitt Romney, who 12 years ago defined himself as pro-choice. By contrast, there are at this time in the top tier of the opposite party no pro-life Democrats, no Democratic candidates from Alabama or Texas, and few with cross-party appeal. In the 2006 midterms, the Democrats made a conscious and conspicuous effort to cross-pollinate, and did rope in a few what could be called reverse Rudys, the rustic and buzz-cut Jon Tester of Montana, the excitable James Webb from Virginia, and Bob Casey Jr., son of the late governor of Pennsylvania who was humiliated by his party at their 1992 convention for his pro-life views. They are green and untested, and may not blend well with their feminized party; but if they survive, things could get interesting. Almost as interesting as the fact that our first urban, Italian, thrice-married president may come to us through the modern Republican party, which, as everyone knows, is rural, racist, Dixiecrat, redneck, uptight, and wholly intolerant of personal slippage. Nothing stands still for long, not even our parties. And what would the map look like then?
Noemie Emery, a WEEKLY STANDARD contributing editor, is author most recently of Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families.