The latest NBC/WSJ poll suggests Rudy Giuliani has stablized a bit after losing support earlier in the summer; the results indicate that Giuliani has expanded his lead over Fred Thompson from 9 to 13% since June. Some of this may have to do with Thompson's own troubles, as the lobbyist/actor looks to be losing momentum in advance of his official declaration. There's plenty of time for the dynamics of the race to change, but meanwhile it's interesting to watch conservatives mull the implications of Giuliani's frontrunner status.
Giuliani doesn't talk about a new GOP. Indeed, he and his campaign go to great lengths to emphasize his similarities with the conservatives who make up the single largest Republican voting bloc. His policy initiatives and public statements are designed to assuage conservatives. He says he would not attempt to rewrite the Republican platform. Still, a Giuliani candidacy would alter the Republican party. For one, it would de-link the Republican presidential nominee from opposition to Roe v. Wade for the first time in decades. And it would divorce the Republican presidential nominee from much of the conservative movement for the first time since 2000.Thomas Edsall, writing for the New Republic, has argued that Giuliani represents the future of the GOP -- a future that will only arrive after a fairly radical transformation of the coalition as we've come to know it over the past several decades. This gives rise to a number of questions. Are conservative movement elites ready for such a transformation, and are they willing to allow the party to detach itself from the movement they've built? Assuming that not all the elites view the question the same way, what is the relative strength of the different factions as they jostle for influence, and will the Giuliani campaign provide a focal point for a serious internal struggle within the movement? Is there a new conservative movement in the offing? Is a hybrid of war-and-terror nationalism and doctrinaire supply-side-ism really the best way forward for the GOP in the long run?
This would be a considerable transformation. Pro-life voters compose a significant portion of the GOP's volunteer corps. There's a chance that they will sit out 2008 if the Republican candidate doesn't share their views on abortion. If that happened, writes the Republican political operative Soren Dayton, "the GOP, out of necessity, would need to recruit a whole new set of volunteers," shattering "the grip that social conservative activists have on the grassroots of the party." There's also a chance that fears of a Clinton restoration and the overall importance of the war on jihadism will subsume party differences over abortion. The conservative grassroots will remain more or less intact. But what if that's not the case? [...]
Many people, including most of his competitors for the Republican nomination, don't seem to have thought through the consequences of Giuliani's ascendance. They haven't arrived at a compelling argument for why his candidacy would be harmful. The only candidate really to go after Giuliani in the Republican debates was former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, and he recently dropped out of the race. Romney spends most of his time attacking McCain, and Kansas senator Sam Brownback spends most of his time attacking Romney.