Rudy Giuliani is a compelling candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2008. He saved New York City, by restoring law and order and breaking with the disastrous urban liberalism of the 1970s. He will forever be honored for his leadership after the 9/11 attacks. And his effective, no-nonsense management style and straight-talking persona are enormously appealing. Our colleague John Podhoretz is correct when he points out that conservatives want to like Giuliani, and we would add that there is a lot to like.
But there are serious obstacles to Giuliani’s winning the embrace of conservatives. Putting aside his tumultuous personal life, his positions on many national issues, from tax reform to the environment, are largely unknown and will be more closely examined. On social issues, however, his liberal views are well known and so present a threshold question for many conservatives. Giuliani’s most important flaw in this regard is his denial that unborn children have a right to life.
We are glad to see that Giuliani is now reaching out to conservatives on these issues. In many cases over the years, pro-lifers have been willing to overlook politicians’ pasts and embrace their conversions. It is never too late to begin protecting life. In other cases, pro-lifers have reached a modus vivendi with politicians who continue to disagree with them. The late Sen. Paul Coverdell, for example, supported legal abortion. But once he won his primary, pro-lifers supported him since he promised to vote to ban partial-birth abortion, oppose public funding of abortion, and support conservative nominees to the judiciary. He lived up to those promises. He stayed theoretically pro-choice, but was operationally pro-life. The bar for Giuliani will be higher, since he is running for president — and so far he has done less.
He has moved on partial-birth abortion. On Meet the Press in 2000, he said he would “vote to preserve the option for women.” He also said, “I think the better thing for America to do is to leave that choice to the woman, because it affects her probably more than anyone else.” Partial-birth abortion is inches away from infanticide, and more than 60 percent of Americans — including many people who consider themselves “pro-choice” — think it is abhorrent and should be prohibited.
Giuliani has now joined this consensus, which is the bare minimum a presidential candidate who wants to find common ground with pro-lifers must do. On Hannity & Colmes on Monday night, Giuliani said that he supports a ban on partial-birth abortion, so long as it allows the procedure when necessary to save the mother’s life. The qualification is puzzling: Nobody has ever presented a persuasive hypothetical case in which a woman’s health would depend on partly delivering her child and then crushing the child’s skull and sucking out the brains — let alone an actual case in which her life was at stake. But we applaud the mayor’s newfound willingness to endorse a ban at all.
Giuliani also says he would look for “strict constructionists” in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito to fill judicial vacancies. This is important for all conservatives who believe that judges should be bound by the Constitution and not free to impose their own policy preferences by fiat. It is particularly important for social conservatives. Roe v. Wade was a foundational act of judicial activism that made it impossible to have any meaningful restrictions on abortion, and the courtroom remains the preferred governmental venue for social liberals seeking to overcome what they regard as the retrograde moral views of the people.
Giuliani surely hopes that social conservatives will think he is promising, sotto voce, to appoint justices who oppose Roe v. Wade. President Bush sent that signal in code. But code won’t be enough for Giuliani. He needs to be up-front about his views on Roe. On Hannity & Colmes, he dodged the question. He said that it’s “up to the court to decide,” and that “it’s been precedent for a very, very long time.” He suggested that this court would not fully overturn Roe, an obvious truth delivered in a too-complacent manner.
This is troubling. President Bush, in 2000, said that Roe “overstepped the constitutional bounds.” While he has declined to call explicitly for its reversal, he has said that the law should protect unborn life and has done what he could to bring that wish closer to reality. He has thus, in practice, stood for the principle that in this country we govern ourselves rather than simply accepting gravely mistaken edicts from the courts.
Giuliani once opposed Roe himself, according to press reports when he first ran for mayor in 1989. He ought to say clearly that states should be allowed to enact protective legislation. His current muddle raises the possibility that “strict constructionism” is, for him, nothing more than a slogan.
He would also be well-advised to quit caricaturing the pro-life position. Giuliani often justifies his support for the abortion license by saying that he did not want to put women “in jail.” That isn’t on the pro-life movement’s agenda. Changing public policy to discourage people from going into the abortion business is. Where does Giuliani stand on that?
In the past he has evinced an interest in challenging the Republican party’s commitment to life. He has said the pro-choice position is “more consistent with the philosophy of the Republican party.” Presumably he no longer wants to confront pro-lifers head-on.
He will have to answer questions about other social issues as well. Has the development of alternative methods of deriving stem cells convinced him that taxpayer funding for research that destroys human embryos is unnecessary? Stem-cell research involving human cloning raises the prospect of the routine creation of human embryos to be destroyed in research. Is Giuliani willing to draw the line before that point?
Giuliani says he opposes both same-sex marriage and a federal constitutional amendment to ban it. Does he also oppose the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage? If so, what would he do to make that opposition effectual? He says that he supports civil unions. But civil unions come in different configurations. Does Giuliani want civil unions that allow any two adults to sign up for certain legal privileges? Or does he want the government to give its affirmative blessing to homosexual relationships?
Many conservatives understandably don’t want to shut the door on Rudy Giuliani. He is very effective at fighting for, and implementing, those conservative causes with which he agrees. Indeed, he represents one of the best examples of executive ability over the last 15 years.
But for four decades, pro-lifers have resisted intense pressure from journalistic, political, and legal elites to declare the abortion question closed. Those elites would surely treat the Republican party’s nomination of a pro-choicer as their final victory. Having blocked that bipartisan ratification of abortion-on-demand for so long, pro-lifers will be especially disinclined to accept it now, after several years in which they have gained ground. (Even Democrats realize that their pro-choice extremism is an electoral loser.)
Many pro-lifers, and many conservatives, may eventually decide that for all his obvious strengths they cannot support Giuliani for president. For now, however, there is a certain symmetry of interest between conservatives and Giuliani. Conservatives should want Giuliani to agree with them on as many issues as possible. And Giuliani should want to win the nomination, without triggering any rush to the party’s exits. We hope he campaigns like it.