Mike Gerson has written a really peculiar piece today in the Washington Post warning conservatives that a Rudy Giuliani presidency would be the second coming of Richard Nixon — because he thinks Rudy would run as a conservative but govern as a social liberal:
He might successfully appeal to blue-collar resentment against liberal elitism and Democratic antiwar overreach, while winning back some pro-choice, suburban female voters. But the Nixon example is also a warning. His presidency — from wage and price controls to the nomination of Justice Harry Blackmun– could hardly be called a conservative success story. As president, Nixon was a talented man without an ideological compass, mainly concerned with the accumulation of power.
It is true that Nixon was arguably the most liberal president in terms of social policy America ever had (he also created the EPA and expanded cradle-to-grave welfare). But unlike Nixon in 1968, Giuliani actually has a record of executive governance.
During his eight years in New York, he cut welfare benefits, cut two dozen taxes, balanced budgets, and used recsission powers to refuse to spend boondoggle money voted by the City Council. He achieved extensive deregulation and sought (unsuccessfully, and unfortunately) to revise the city’s zoning law to make New York more hospitable to job-creating businesses.
Of all the candidates in the race, Giuliani is the person who has the greatest claim on having fought for — against a violently hostile liberal establishment — and achieved some very important governmental changes, all of which deserve to be called “conservative.”
Gerson warns that Nixon was a man without an ideological compass. That is true. But it is not true of Rudy Giuliani, who not only has one but used it in navigating the liberal waters of New York City. It is true that Rudy’s ideological compass does not point in the same direction as Gerson’s on socially conservative matters.
And in this regard, any voter who decides he cannot in good conscience support or vote for Giuliani because of his views on abortion and stem-cell research is making a principled decision.
But to object to Rudy on grounds that he might suddenly emerge as a big-government liberal is ludicrous and, I think, maybe a bit disingenuous on Mike’s part. If he thinks Rudy cannot be trusted because he’s pro-choice, then he should just say so outright and not try to extend his indictment to areas where Giuliani has demonstrated his willingness to fight like a tiger against liberal conventional opinion for conservative ends.