The Corner

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Re: Rudy Guiliani and the Strategic Moment


Earlier today, Maggie quoted the always tough-minded, not-previously-known-to-be-keen-on-the-issue Rudy Giuliani making the point that current New York governor David Paterson is wrong politically to push for legalizing gay marriage. Rudy believes that it will create a backlash that will help sweep Republicans into office in 2010. “This will create a grassroots movement. This is the kind of issue that, in many ways, is somewhat beyond politics,” said Giuliani.

Sorry, not buying it (though I wish I could). It’s pure wishful thinking. The formulation rings hollow on both points: that this grassroots movement will successfully resist gay marriage once the issue is in play here, and that opposing gay marriage will sweep Republicans back into office.

On the first point, Maggie has frequently reminded us that at least 60 percent of the electorate opposes gay marriage. Okay. Why are they less effective than their numbers suggest they could be? Maggie tells us that they merely lack a leader, or a few leader-like advocacy groups. Again, I agree.

The difference is, I don’t see that changing. Even if Rudy comes out swinging, the opposition is pretty strong. As Fred Dicker, who conducted the Rudy interview, notes: “Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, along with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, all Democrats, are in favor.” (Gillibrand, of course, was not in favor when she represented a more conservative district. So we know there are strong pressures on Democrats.)

But Rudy points to his ace in the hole: that “President Obama and Hillary Clinton have essentially the same position I have, which is let’s have civil unions but not go so far as to change the definition of marriage.” Given that, he expects to attract many moderate Democrats.

But is it true that Clinton and Obama really reject gay marriage? I’d say that the position Rudy describes is their stated, ultimately expedient political view, crafted for a national campaign. Does anyone doubt that both Clinton and Obama would happily embrace gay marriage? Would they oppose it strenuously?

Defeating gay marriage in New York will require a very strong and capable opposition, with real leaders. The New York GOP hasn’t been able to provide that in quite a while. And that brings us to Rudy’s second point: using the gay marriage to revive the fortunes of the New York GOP. I just don’t see that, either.

Given the magnitude of the change that will occur to society if gay marriage is legalized, some opponents will make this their priority issue. But, in a deep recession, many who share that view will not. They will vote for whoever promises them a better economic future. And they will vote for the more attractive candidate overall.

David Freddoso notes that, as of today, the next congressman from NY-20, a formerly solid GOP upstate district, will probably be carpet-bagging Democratic newcomer Scott Murphy, not anti-tax longtime Republican state legislator Jim Tedisco. Why is that?

Personally, I think it’s because Tedisco, whose views on most issues I share, is a career political hack. (Not to say he hasn’t done worthwhile things at times. He has.) NY-20 seems newly attracted to the idea of electing shiny-penny, well-educated yuppies (or whatever we call them these days). Democrats in New York State have been able to attract smart, successful people with talent, education, and a little gloss to run for office. (Whatever else you think of them, that description is true of Hillary, Eliot Spitzer, and Gillibrand.) Both urban and outstate voters have clearly responded positively. The response is especially striking in the case of outstate voters, who have gained little, and sacrificed many “values issue” positions.

For its part, the New York GOP puts up none too impressive members of the dying D’Amato machine who’ve voted with the interests in their previous position and paid their dues, but who frequently lack polish, charisma, or even the ability to articulate a set of conservative policies during a campaign (though they do oppose abortion). That’s bad. At the moment here in NYC, we are treated to the spectacle of the party’s behaving like an abandoned wife responding to promises of gifts and renewed romance as it negotiates to take back former Republican Mike Bloomberg, who stormed out of the marriage when he thought he could do better as an independent. Oh, and to let him run as a Republican, the party will trash the state term-limits law. Desperation is ugly. This is a state party well past free fall. It’s crashed. A rousing fight against gay marriage is just not going to revive it.

Absent a willingness inside the New York GOP establishment to put egos on hold and go out and recruit talent (there are a lot of underemployed, very smart bankers and lawyers in Manhattan offices, many of whom understand markets, job creation, and the role that taxes play in keeping upstate poor, and who have always wanted to run for office), the GOP will continue to lose elections here. And if it does, we will continue to lose on issues where there are natural majorities.

Governor Paterson will be defeated easily, in a primary, not because of gay marriage, but because it is all too clear that he isn’t intelligent or even competent. He is from the same mold as most of the legislature in which he served. And yes, he is too liberal.

As for pinning our hopes on Rudy to lead this fight — or, say, the one over taxes — the Dicker interview ends with this: “Giuliani, the GOP’s best hope to recapture the Governor’s Mansion, said he’s in no rush to make up his mind about running for governor, although he vowed to do so before the end of the year.”

I like Giuliani. I supported him in the primaries and I wish he were president now, regardless of his flaws. He is far and away the best hope for the state GOP, and for New York State in general. In fact, he is the only hope right now on a long list of issues, of which gay marriage is not at the top, important as it is. But that “no rush to make up his mind” business is exactly the same equivocating nonsense that cost him even a reasonable shot at the presidential nomination last year. It screams: “I’m not serious.” And all of his financial backers know that, having learned the hard way. It’s hard to imagine that the men and women who paid for his complete failure of a campaign last year are lining up to hand over what’s left of their money. And that’s before we ask whether the Giuliani funders are, for the most part, opposed to gay marriage — or even willing to subsidize a campaign where that is a major theme. I wouldn’t bet on it.