Politics & Policy

Can Rudy Convince the Skeptics?

After the Robertson endorsement, the candidate talks about persuading social conservatives that he means what he says.

Will Pat Robertson’s endorsement help Rudy Giuliani win the support of wary social conservatives? The answer is most likely “yes” — at least a little. The benefit to Giuliani is not that millions of evangelical Christians will now vote for him because Robertson told them to; the old “easily led” canard was never true in the past and is certainly not true today. Rather, the benefit to Giuliani is that Robertson’s endorsement will help Giuliani shake his image as a candidate who can’t win evangelical support and therefore can’t win the Republican primaries.

At yesterday’s announcement, held at the National Press Club in Washington, Robertson said he chose to support Giuliani because the social issues with which he, Robertson, was mostly closely associated in the past are not the top issues facing Americans in the 2008 election. “To me, the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic terrorism,” Robertson told reporters. The second-most important issue, Robertson said, is fiscal discipline. Only after that, he suggested, are the social issues, with the overriding priority being the makeup of the federal courts. “Uppermost in the mind of social conservatives is the selection of Supreme Court justices,” Robertson said, and Giuliani “has assured the American people that his choices for judicial appointments will be men and women who share the judicial philosophy of John Roberts and Antonin Scalia.”

After the news conference, I sat down with Giuliani to discuss the biggest hurdle facing his judicial appointments strategy: the fact that a significant number of conservatives simply do not believe his pledge to appoint strict constructionist judges to the courts.

“I don’t understand why,” Giuliani told me. “Because look, if I was going to try to fool them, I would just change my positions. I would just fool them, right? I’m not suggesting anybody else has done that. So I think people should have the sense that I’m straight with them. And if they just look at my history and background, who do they think I’m going to appoint? All of my friends, all of the people I’ve associated with, all the people I respect, the vast majority of them would fall into the category of conservative thinkers, conservative lawyers, and strict constructionist judges.”

Giuliani cited his advisers on judicial matters — Theodore Olson, Miguel Estrada, Steven Calabresi, and other conservative legal stars. “I’m going to put together a committee much like that to help me evaluate judges,” he told me. “Our whole purpose is going to be to do the best we can to find strict constructionist judges. I don’t know why anybody would think there’s some kind of hidden agenda to do anything else.”

I said the next president might face a Senate with more than 51 Democrats, making the job of a Republican president, should there be one, all the more difficult. “We’re hoping that isn’t the case, but prepared for it just in case,” Giuliani said. “I think that underscores the need to not only try to pick conservative judges but to have some expertise in doing it. Think about the next Republican president, if it’s me or any of the other possibilities, and you get one or two appointments to the Supreme Court. I bet you we get handed the same list [of potential nominees].”

I asked why Giuliani could not simply name a few of the people he might nominate. “I don’t think that’s ever been done before,” he said. “I think it’s better to name names to show you the people who are going to advise me and who I’m asking for advice on finding judges, and it’s pretty darn clear that what I’m looking for are judges who have a conservative legal philosophy. Somehow it seems inappropriate to start naming possible candidates to the Supreme Court.”

At that point, Robertson, sitting nearby, remarked that whoever was named would be under fire from the moment his or her name got out. Giuliani continued: “There’s always this thought about you should name your cabinet before you become president, and it always sounds very attractive except when you think that every single one of them is going to get ripped apart, beaten up, they become the issue instead of the campaign. I think that would probably be a mistake to do that.” So as much as Giuliani needs to reassure social conservatives that his intentions for the Court are what he says, don’t look for him to say who he’d appoint.

Tomorrow: Giuliani talks about his strategy for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina — and beyond.

Byron York is a former White House correspondent for National Review.

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