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    November 19, 2006

    The Rudy Option

    Posted by: Chris

    As John McCain's Straight Talk Express lurches off the right shoulder on the road to White House, moderate and liberatarian Republicans — not to mention independents and conservative Democrats — will no doubt be casting around for other '08 options. Someone they can trust in the war on terror and who advocates a limited role for government in the economy and their bedrooms. So what about Rudy?

    Rudynytimes Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, viewed by many as a hero after 9/11, took the first steps last week toward organizing a 2008 presidential run. And some top political strategists offered some unsolicited advice via the New York Times. They predictably pumped up Giuliani's credentials fighting crime and rebuilding New York, but their most interesting thoughts came on how McCain should deal with his "liberal social views" on abortion and gay rights.

    Here's the gist of what they said:

    • Mary Matalin, the saner half of the Carville household, cautioning against following McCain's lead: "On liberal social positions: carefully evolve, but don’t be a phony. Social conservatives are conviction voters. And social moderates will reject political opportunism. Indicate your respect for conservative convictions and try to 'refine' your own. A late-life reversal on late-term abortion is entirely plausible and mandatory. Try to keep focus on constitutionalist judges."
    • Clinton adviser Paul Begala, giving what could only be considered poison pill advice: "You can’t switch on everything. So surrender to the far right on one issue: abortion. But the only way to do it is whole hog. Use your trump card: 9/11. Tell them the death you saw that day gave you a greater appreciation for the sanctity of life. You’re Saul on the road to Damascus. Praise the Lord and pass the delegates."
    • ABC News political director Mark Halperin, offering what journalists forever long for in a politician (authenticity): "Giuliani would seem to have two choices — try to back off of his previously held liberal positions on social issues, or confront the party by arguing that his conservative record on crime, taxes and national security should be sufficient for a party serious about being a big enough tent to win national elections. Giuliani watchers say they have no doubt that if he runs, he would pursue the latter course."
    • GOP consultant Rich Galen, suggesting a reverse John Kerry, a run to the center: "As to Rudy’s positions on social issues, I would interview the staff who ran Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign. California Republicans are decidedly conservative. Notwithstanding Arnold’s very moderate stance on most social and environmental issues, he got (according to one exit poll) 91 percent of the G.O.P. vote. That tells me Republicans want to win much more than they want to lose on the point of an ideological sword.

    All in all, Galen's suggestion offers the best hope for Giuliani. If Republican primary voters are chastened enough by the disastrous midterm election this month, then a credible conservative on national security, crime and fiscal conservative might appear the safer option.

    The conventional wisdom is that the extremes control the primaries but history belies that conclusion. The reality is that the real money and votes usually go to whoever is viewed as most electable. That's how Kerry beat Dean in '04, Gore beat Bradley in '00, and Bob Dole beat more conservative options in '96. True, McCain was viewed as more centrist than George W. Bush in '00, but the junior Bush's pedigree and charisma (yeah, it's hard to remember when the aww shucks routine worked), made the difference, rather than his more conservative credentials.

    Giuliani and Schwarzenegger offer a way back to power for Republicans with the potential for a more stable "big tent." Fiscal conservatives have long been in uneasy alliance with social conservatives, and many of the latter will nonetheless respond to a robust leader in a time of war (on terror, not Iraq, as Galen points out: "The overwhelming advantage Rudy has over every other candidate is he has not held public office over the course of the Bush administration.")

    Giuliani's unique ability to appeal to the red-staters' red-white-and-blue patriotism could overcome their desire to legislate their moral beliefs.



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