alien & sedition.
Monday, March 12, 2007
  Rudy and Social Conservatives: "A Deal in the Works"?

How could Republican primary voters - the preponderance of whom are social conservatives - possibly wind up nominating a pro-choice New Yorker for president? Noemie Emery explains how in an article at the Weekly Standard. Contrary to the many observers who see an unresolvable conflict at the heart of the Rudy-Republican relationship, Emery suggests that there may be a "deal in the works" between the mayor and sociocons:
Next year may see the party of the Sunbelt and Reagan, based in the South and in Protestant churches, nominate its first presidential candidate who is Catholic, urban, and ethnic--and socially liberal on a cluster of issues that set him at odds with the party's base. As a result, it may also see the end of the social issues litmus test in the Republican party, done in not by the party's left wing, which is shrunken and powerless, but by a fairly large cadre of social conservatives convinced that, in a time of national peril, the test is a luxury they cannot afford.
As Emery points out, the abortion litmus test has been at the center of national politics for over 30 years, dating back at least to the parties' dueling 1980 platforms, and reinforced since by powerful interest groups on either side. Emery is suggesting that something no less than revolutionary is happening: a party may be on the verge of abandoning its commitment to the fight. And the winner would be Rudy Giuliani.

Such a development is made possible by the way Giuliani has been working within a changing political context. First, and most important, he has not been resorting to wild Romney-style pandering. Instead, he's been taking David Frum's advice:
"He should not try to deny or conceal his own views," [Frum] wrote of the mayor. "He should not invoke Lee Atwater's 'Big Tent' . . . nor should he spend minutes and minutes parsing his views. . . . His job is not to persuade pro-life Republicans to agree with him, but to assure them that they can live with him."
This matters because Giuliani's appeal to conservatives lies in his strong-leader persona, which would be undermined if he gave the impression of flip-flopping around - even if it were in the name of taking up the sociocon agenda. It's a pretty neat trick.

Of course, it's aided by the fact that some social conservatives have indicated their willingness to be bought more cheaply this time around. Just give us the judges, they say, and we'll do the rest. And Rudy has been promising them that much, at least. Of course, there's another contradiction here: if sociocons believe that they are winning the wars of public opinion over abortion and gay marriage, they may have the self-confidence not to need a leader who promises to federalize their every concern (certainly this would be a relief to the libertarian contingent in the GOP). But if they are winning the public opinion war, why should they settle for anything less? To the victors should go the spoils, right? Judicial nominations are a baseline upon which Giuliani is able to freely acceede to conservative demands. And some of the commentariat are telling themselves that that will be enough. But will it?

Back to Emery, at any rate. If the litumus test is about to die, if Giuliani is able to win the nomination without making more than baseline assurances to social conservatives, it will be for a number of reasons. Emery provides four - the first two of which I want to discuss in this post.

First, the War. This is the most obvious factor, though Emery provides a particularly vivid depiction of the sociocon mentality here:
They see [Giuliani] 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.
This, besides being deeply disturbing, points to a larger question: can the 'war on terror' act as a convincing stand-in for the struggle against communism, which united the right for so long? Emery quotes Jonah Goldberg as saying that pro-lifers "really, really believe the war on terror is for real." Of course, that's exactly what a fighting keyboarder like Goldberg would want to believe. I don't pretend to know the extent to which Joe and Jane Pro-Lifer actually buy into the vast, self-aggrandizing historical fantasy of the conservative pundit classes, who have so much invested in their operatic role-playing game, who spend so much time and waste so much ink making bad historical analogies and congratulating each other for their Churchillian wisdom and Lincoln-like resoluteness, but I have my doubts.

There's also the Uncle Rico factor. This was of course the name we gave to Tom Schaller's theory that Giuliani represents, for Republicans, a chance to go back and relive the era before they bungled in Iraq, a time when Republicans, with a straight face, could refer to the GOP as the party of national security (9/11-related failures notwithstanding). Thinking about it more, I'm starting to wonder: is Schaller giving conservatives too much credit? Remember, they don't think like us. Sure, GOP politicians and strategists know Iraq has been a disaster for them, but isn't the whole point that Republican primary voters don't make a distinction between Iraq and the war on terror? They may be angry about how the war has been such a cock-up, but between now and next November they have a perfectly good Dolchstosslegende to explain why it's all the Democrats' fault.

At any rate, the war (whichever war) may turn out to be a lot less predictive than we'd like to think it will be, in terms of how it affects conservative voters next spring. The "surge" will have done its thing, or not done its thing. If conditions in Iraq haven't improved, even social conservatives may not be so eager anymore for a hawkish candidate that they'd be willing to sell their age-old priorities down the river. On the other side of the coin, if the Dolchstosslegende has been marketed well enough, any old Republican might be able to take advantage of it.

Still, there's no denying - for now - the appeal of Rudy's vicious personality. And that's the second big factor for Emery: Rudy is "not your father's pro-choice Republican." He's no squishy liberal like Lincoln Chafee or "the ladies from Maine." He's a hard-ass:
To the press, Rudy was one of those terrible people--too quick to defend the police when they were attacked on brutality charges; a fascist, a bully, and a prude. With most pro-choice Republicans, their views on abortion are only one of a set of positions and attitudes that arouse the ire of the base. Giuliani is that very rare animal, a pro-choice Republican who is also the furthest thing possible from a liberal on a wide range of issues (law and order among them). [...]

Rudy Giuliani is a liberal slayer.
Rudy's an authoritarian jerk. And, to social conservatives, this is apparently like pheremones. As discussed before, it's not unlike Vernon Lee's examination of Dubya's appeal in 2004: the cowboy factor. It all seems to converge with analysis by Glenn Greenwald and Rick Perlstein. The right loves swagger. The right loves to bug the liberals. The right loves a bully. All of this makes Rudy Giuliani a hell of a lot more compelling than George Pataki, and it may just get him nominated.

Tomorrow I'll look more at this argument - and its implications for the Republican party.

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Did Clinton fire her first shot?

This is from the NY Times on Al Gore. Looks like he is preparing to run for president and the Clinton camp is worried.

From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype
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