Well, Rudy has made his much-awaited appearance before the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit. My guess is that the Giuliani campaign is going away happy. And the FRC members here – well, they may have a bit more positive view of Giuliani than they had before.
The first thing to remember is that Giuliani did not have the option of hitting a home run. It just wasn’t going to happen. Indeed, there were people in the FRC who wished he had never been invited at all. So the best result for him was to a) not do himself any damage, and b) do himself some marginal good. And it appears that he did.
“He didn’t win any converts,” one FRC insider told me. “Not in the primaries. But he might have won some of them over for a general election.” Another insider conceded that Giuliani had probably helped himself a bit, saying, “We worried about that. We knew there was an upside for him.”
The speech started out slowly – badly, actually. Giuliani made a mistake by undertaking to tell these religious voters a bit about Christianity. “We’ve got to find a way to be more inclusive,” he said. “Christianity is all about inclusiveness – it’s built around the most profound act of love in human history, isn’t it?” No one applauded. Some FRC types whispered to each other that it was a pretty odd thing for Rudy Giuliani to lecture them about religion.
Giuliani then began to tiptoe around the fact that most of the audience didn’t support him. “I’m not going to pretend to you that I can be all things to all people,” he said. “I’m just not like that.” From there, he hit the low point of his speech. “You have absolutely nothing to fear from me,” he told the audience. Like Larry Craig’s “I am not gay,” that kind of statement tends to make people think precisely the opposite. At that moment, it looked like Giuliani’s appearance might be a complete disaster.
But then…he got better. Giuliani took a few indirect shots at his fellow Republican candidates, accusing them of flip-flopping to be popular while Giuliani remained steadfast. “Isn’t it better that I tell you what I really believe,” he said, “rather than changing my positions to fit the prevailing winds?” “If I come out here and I take a poll and I try to figure out what you all believe, and then I try to repeat to you what you believe, then I’m a follower. I may be a good actor, but I’m a follower.” (Might there be any alleged flip-floppers, or perhaps an actor, in the race?)
The crowd began to warm a bit as Giuliani talked about his record in New York. “Have you been to New York City?” he asked. “I bet you’re not afraid to come there anymore.” He told the story of turning the city around, emphasizing his efforts against crime and in cleaning up Times Square. “Times Square had become a haven for drug dealers, for prostitutes, and for purveyors of pornography,” he said. “We drove pornography out.” The audience applauded.
Giuliani got more applause when he went through his stand against the Brooklyn Museum of Art. “The government should never be required to give out taxpayer money to desecrate religion,” he said. “It’s just plain wrong.” Then he covered welfare reform and got more applause when he came to education. “Every parent in America should have the right to send their child to the school of their choice, including the right for responsible parents to choose home schooling. The government should not force parents to send their children to failing or inadequate schools.”
The fact that members of the audience applauded was a measure of their courtesy but also of a certain receptiveness to Giuliani. Some people dislike him so much that they won’t applaud when he says something they agree with. Most of the people in the crowd today weren’t like that.
And then Giuliani misspoke when he came to the issue that matters most to many FRC voters. Reaching the part of his speech where he says that he worked to decrease abortions and increase adoptions in New York, he said that he had worked “to decrease adoptions and – ” There was a slight pause while his staff winced. “To decrease abortions and increase adoptions…” Giuliani got back on track.
“You and I share the same goal,” he said. “A country without abortions, achieved by changing the minds and hearts of people.” He went through several steps he would take, beginning with, “I will veto any reduction in the impact of the Hyde Amendment.” and continuing with continued support of parental notification and the ban on partial birth abortion, and the appointment of strict constructionist judges.
Giuliani left the national defense part of his speech for last. He got applause for vowing to win in Iraq, and he got more applause for an extended discussion of the importance of standing by Israel. (There was an Israeli flag or two in the audience yesterday.) And then, he returned to the big topic: himself. “You and I know I’m not a perfect person,” he said in what was probably the understatement of the entire conference. But, he went on, “We lose trust with our political leaders not because they are imperfect – after all, they are human – we lose trust with them when they’re not honest with us.”
It was in many ways a different kind of Giuliani speech – I can’t remember a single reference to Hillary Clinton, although it’s possible I could have missed one or two. But it wasn’t the sort of “our real opponents are the Democrats” speech that he often gives these days. And with few exceptions, it made no mention of his Republican opponents. Instead, it was Giuliani making the best case he knew how to make for himself. It was uneven, and it had its low points, but he just kept at it and kept at it. And by the end, he had helped himself – not a huge amount, but a bit – with his biggest problem in the Republican race.