America’s Mayor’s Achilles Heel
Religious elites can live with him but religious base won't come out for him.


Rudy Giuliani is riding high. He has consistently led his Republican opponents in the national polls for weeks, and the polls also suggest he would do well in the general election. On the hustings, he projects an aura of authority, competence, and honesty, and his deft and repeated attacks on Hillary Clinton suggest he would be a formidable Republican nominee for president.

The big question hanging over the Giuliani candidacy has been whether he can garner enough support from religious conservatives to go the distance. This month’s surprising endorsement from televangelist Pat Robertson has raised hopes in the Giuliani camp that he might attract enough social conservatives to his cause to win the nomination.

Indeed, Giuliani’s performance has led a number of influential social conservatives to signal that they could live with a Giuliani candidacy. Many of these elites admire Giuliani’s commitment to the war on terror and his unabashed patriotism. And while they do not expect the world of him on social issues, they think he would appoint strict constructionist judges, in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who would chip away at Roe v. Wade. They also expect that a Giuliani administration would grant social conservatives access to the halls of power in Washington, something they could never get in a Democratic administration.

For instance, Jody Bottum, editor of First Things: A Journal of Religion and Public Life, the preeminent organ of social conservative thought in the United States, thinks Giuliani has at least two things running in his favor.

According to Bottum,

If he campaigns wisely, picks a socially conservative running mate, and talks about how his court appointments would interpret the law strictly, he is capable of doing reasonably well with religious conservatives.

Moreover, even though many social conservatives would be reluctant to support Giuliani because of his social stands, Bottum thinks that in the end “Giuliani is such a brilliant negative campaigner that many of them might come out to vote against Hillary,” and end up casting a vote for him.

Gary Bauer, president of American Values, has struck a similar note, telling National Review that the support of social conservatives is within Giuliani’s reach. “It would require a sell job that goes beyond anything he’s done up until now,” he says. “It probably would mean very specific assurances on a handful of key things that people that would want to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt. But I think it can be done.”

Economic conservatives have gone further. Scott Reed, Bob Dole’s campaign manager in 1996, contends that it’s “all about [Rudy] being a tough guy who won’t take c**p from anyone.” “Social conservatives,” Reed continues, “have embraced this and have overlooked the traditional issues of life, marriage, and the Second Amendment for the guy.” Likewise, Robert Tracinski, a regular contributor to Real Clear Politics, argues that social conservatives are now “willing to accept that their political preferences are — and should be — driven primarily by the secular concerns of war and taxes.” In other words, Reed and Tracinski seem to believe that social conservatives are finally following the advice of the ACLU and privatizing their religious beliefs.

Such views abound partly because Rudy is currently leading all candidates in national polls of Republican voters by a considerable margin. Yet we should not read too much into these surveys. As a recent Gallup survey cautions, although Republicans “generally perceive [Rudy] to be liberal or moderate on moral values issues,” most are also “unaware of Giuliani’s positions on abortion and gay rights.” Given such unfamiliarity, we should not be surprised to find that greater intimacy with Rudy and his positions depresses Republican enthusiasm. In New Hampshire and Iowa, the states in which voters have enjoyed the most exposure to the candidates, Giuliani trails far behind Mitt Romney. In fact, Rudy might finish third in both states.