alien & sedition.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
  Rudy's Bold New World

So Rudy Giuliani has, we're told, decided to drop the tortured pretenses and run as an openly pro-choice candidate for the Republican nomination. Ross Douthat has a pretty good analysis of some of the implications:
I doubt that he can win the nomination like this, but it's not entirely out of the question, particularly in a frontloaded primary season where his weaker rivals may not have time to accept defeat, drop out, and allow the anti-Rudy vote to coalesce around a single candidate. (Though a brokered convention - the dream of pundits everywhere - might be a more likely outcome in that scenario.)

The larger question is whether winning the GOP nomination as a down-the-line pro-choicer might prove to be a poisoned chalice. Frankly, if Giuliani being the Republican nominee doesn't prompt a third-party run by a pro-life candidate that cuts into his general-election support, then social conservatives ought to retire from politics out of sheer embarrassment.
In a larger sense, Giuliani's decision makes him a considerably more interesting candidate, since it clarifies his candidacy's role as a significant litmus test for conservative and Republican politics. Are there circumstances in which a candidate can win the GOP nomination despite openly rejecting the anti-abortion position that has been so important to the strength of the party's base over the past two decades?

One might argue that many conservatives are reaping what they have sowed since 9/11: having done so much to spread paranoia over what they depict as an epochal clash of civilizations, and to encourage simple-minded hero worship and glorification of the strong leader in response, these conservatives are confronted with the harvest: a candidate whose power to reject fundamental elements of the conservative movement's agenda is drawn precisely from his ability to profit politically from those "long war" themes.

Of course, it might also be seen as a test of the relative strength of those conservative elites who have never cared much either way about abortion versus those who are dedicated to keeping the issue at the center of the conservative project. To put it more concisely: if you simply follow the money, how far will it take you?

History tells us that the conservative party in American politics tends to fare quite badly when it lacks a mass populist wing. Like it or not, for modern Republicans the anti-abortion movement is that wing. Can they survive without it? Will they dare to try?

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Ha. I just finished writing about this on my blog, and then your piece pops up on bloglines.

I think Rudy is probably done, since his position on abortion is a signal to social conservatives that he is declaring war on them. If Rudy gets the nomination and wins the Presidency, the social conservatives will be finished in the party - the "mods" will be able to argue that they can win without them.

Giuliani's hope has to be that McCain and Romney are just as unacceptable to conservatives and he can sneak through.

I don't think it'll happen. The odds are that the Theocons will rally around McCain if they have to. McCain's hired some pretty tough customers, and when they're finished tearing Rudy apart it won't be pretty.
I'm inclined to think you're right - it's simply not a battle the social conservatives can afford to lose. And, in the long run, it's not a battle the Republicans can afford to lose. And, as you point out, McCain's got some pretty heavy ammo on his side.

A lot of times these institutional candidates look to be in really dire shape early in the campaign season -- remember Kerry kicking a can down the street in that documentary -- until their organization, money, and institutional ties really come into play.
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