The Corner

‘Marginalizing Social Conservatives

A disgruntled reader writes:

What a surprise that that a Giuliani supporter would discount his dismal performance in the Iowa polls and then recast his attempt to marginalize social conservatives in the GOP as a good thing.

Thank you, disgruntled reader, for giving me the opportunity to explain something about the way I write about Giuliani. I am a Giuliani supporter because I think he stands the best chance of defeating Hillary in the general election. I have long thought this was the case, owing to a very close study (in part because it was my job to make a close study) of his stewardship of New York City during the mayoralty. That mayoralty  was — I cannot say this often enough –  the antithesis of the kind of “liberal Republicanism” that so many of his critics on the Right so easily accuse him of representing.

Giuliani spent years and fought 30 lawsuits and the horrified cluckings of the New York Times and the New York Civil Liberties Union trying to save family neighborhoods from the blight of porn shops (which are often mob fronts as well as porn distributors). He was successful. In my estimation, that was the most powerful and successful family-friendly, socially conservative act of governance I’ve ever seen — and it was undertaken and continued in the teeth of ferocious resistance that would have cowed almost any other politician in America.

There are dozens of other examples of his willingness to stand up to the Liberal establishment, on matters of spending and tax cuts and the like.

To me, that is a pretty serious qualification for anyone who wants effective conservative governance, much of it aimed in a socially conservative direction. I agree that this may not be enough comfort for anyone for whom the term “social conservative” is merely a synonym for being pro-life. And Giuliani’s decision not to flip-flop on abortion is a risky one from this perspective. This primary season will now provide an extraordinary test of my thesis. If he cannot garner enough support from social conservatives to win the nomination, then by definition he won’t be the best person to take on Hillary — because his failure to attract social-conservative support would indicate they will not be active on his behalf, and the GOP needs social conservatives to be active if the GOP is to have any hope at all in 2008.

But with these caveats in mind, social conservatives ought to have no problem rallying energetically to John McCain’s side — a man with an exemplary pro-life record dating back 25 years, by far the most loyal adherent to social-conservative legislation in the race. And yet they’re not (and I suspect my e-mailer is not). Why? Because they don’t trust him, or don’t like where he stands on other issues, or find his 2000 attack on Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell suggestive of a deep hostility to them.

Primarily, though, I think social conservatives believe themselves to be standing up against an Establishment that is doing damage to the ordinary lives of ordinary Americans. And that is exactly the defining quality of Giuliani’s management of New York City — he was a popular tribune against the Establishment.