So: after his disastrous debate performance on the question of abortion, Republican presidential front-runner Rudy Giuliani has apparently decided to recalibrate his position, and will be a sorta-loud, sorta-proud proponent of abortion rights. At the same time, his aides suggest, he may downplay the early-states gauntlet of Iowa, NH, and SC, and stake his candidacy on a smashing win in Florida on January 29 (assuming that state’s decision to move that far up survives pressure from the RNC) and in the quasi-national primary on February 5.To the extent that this “new” position is a lot easier to explain and is consistent with his longstanding record in New York, it makes some sense, but it’s obviously a big gamble. Sure, anti-abortion activists are stronger in relatively low-turnout contests like the Iowa Caucuses than in, say, a California primary. But no one should underestimate the extent to which this is a litmus test issue for broad swaths of conservative GOP rank-and-file voters in almost every part of the country. And while Paul Waldman at TAPPED is right in suggesting that Rudy won’t get much of a pass from social conservatives for whom a politician’s position on abortion is essentially a symbolic reflection of their shared belief that American culture is plunging hellwards, Rudy’s bigger problem is going to be with the significant number of conservatives who really do think Roe v. Wade initiated an ongoing American Holocaust. They will do anything to deny Giuliani the nomination, up to and including reaching agreement on a single alternative candidate if necessary.A more immediate problem for Rudy is that his recalibrated position supporting abortion rights happened to coincide perfectly with a statement in Mexico by Pope Benedict XVI adding his personal authority to the conservative clerical contention that pro-choice Catholic politicians should be denied communion. And right away, the rector of the parish where Rudy’s last church-sanctioned marriage was performed told the New York Daily News that he’d deny Giuliani communion if he happened to show up at the altar rail there.This last news was a bit odd, insofar as it ignored the more obvious reason that Rudy might be denied communion at this particular church, or any other Catholic church: his civil dissolution of the marriage performed there, and his civil remarriage to a woman who had also been married twice previously. I sort of doubt Giuliani is going to be seeking communion anywhere, unless he’s pre-arranged it very carefully with a priest who’s willing to take an enormous amount of hierarchical heat.The Pope’s statement is actually bigger news for the four Catholic Democrats running for president: Richardson, Dodd, Biden and Kucinich. In 2004 John Kerry managed to take communion regularly with only a modicum of church-shopping, despite considerable conservative rumblings about denying him access to the sacrament. That may be a lot dicier for pro-choice Catholic Democrats now, on and off the presidential campaign trail.As for Rudy, putting aside his personal religious convictions, he would be politically smart to just go ahead and leave the Catholic Church under protest. His official Catholicism is very unlikely to survive this campaign. Abjuring it would make him one of millions of American ex-Catholics, without offending the many millions of Catholics who disagree with Church teachings on divorce and abortion but who aren’t visible enough in their views to get denied communion.In terms of Giuliani’s position on abortion, he’s probably waffling his way towards a stance that (1) expresses support for reversal of Roe v. Wade on constitutional grounds, (2) makes it clear he’d appoint federal judges who feel likewise, and (3) suggests that in a post-Roe world, he’d support state-level legislative efforts to protect basic abortion rights, though not from the Oval Office. As a practical matter, reversal of Roe is the major objective of anti-abortion activists, and they’d be happy to take their chances with a technically pro-choice president if that happened. Unfortunately for Rudy, his serpentine path on this subject may have fatally undermined any confidence that anti-choicers could trust him to appoint their kind of Supreme Court justices.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
Waiting for Joe Biden’s speech to a joint session of Congress to begin this week, I observed at New York that Republicans were struggling to define him consistently, which felt like a familiar problem for them:
When Bill Clinton was at the pre-Lewinsky peak of his powers, he drove Republicans nuts. They alternated between accusing him of “stealing our issues” with his triangulating pitches on welfare reform and crime and the size of government, and of being “liberal, liberal, liberal!” — a sort of boomer love child of George McGovern and Janis Joplin in a deceptive deep-fried southern packaging. Eventually the opportunity to depict him as a lying sexual predator solved the conservative dilemma, though you could argue he never stopped throwing them off-balance.
Republicans are similarly having problems getting a clear focus on Joe Biden, as the Los Angeles Times’ Noah Bierman observes:
“Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has advised Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, [says] that his party’s two main messages about Biden are at odds with each other, blunting their impact. ‘The thing you hear Republicans say most is that he’s too old for the job, which isn’t consistent with saying he’s doing too much,’ Conant said. ‘You can’t effectively argue that he’s incompetent and that he’s too effective.'”
This dual framing of Biden was evident during the 2020 campaign, when Trump called him “Sleepy Joe” and with his usual lack of subtlety suggested his opponent was senile, even as he assailed Biden’s party of radical socialist aims. The 45th president and his surrogates squared the circle by treating Biden as the half-there puppet of the real powers, particularly the “communist” Kamala Harris.
But now, 100 days into the Biden-Harris administration, even though the new president has kept an unusually low profile, there are no signs of Harris or anyone else manipulating him. Indeed, so far his White House has been remarkably free of the factionalism that often undermines clear presidential leadership. With Clinton as president you had a White House staff famously divided (ironically, given the later reputations of the First Lady and the veep) into progressive “Rodhams” and centrist “Gores” who jockeyed for position and placed their varying stamps on administration policies. George W. Bush’s presidency was also marked by competing power centers (e.g., his terrifying vice-president and the “Boy Genius” Karl Rove); to a lesser extent, so was Obama’s. As for Donald Trump, hardly a week passed without someone — particularly his rotating cast of chiefs-of-staff — being described by “insiders” as the real power behind the throne or perhaps as the wild man’s lion-tamer.
Trump, of course, created some of the same problems for Democrats that Clinton — and now Biden — posed for Republicans. Was he the “toddler president” who ran a hollowed-out administration with no real core of convictions or goals? Or was he a putative Il Duce craftily planning an authoritarian takeover of the country? Up until the day he left office there was evidence for both descriptions. Indeed, the coda of his presidency, the January 6 Capitol riot, was variously regarded as a fascist coup attempt and a clown show.
Trump’s successor will have an opportunity in his first address to a joint session of Congress to add to the impression that he is quietly but firmly in charge of the executive branch, and has imposed order on his fractious party as he unveils yet another massive proposal. Kamala Harris will be sitting (and often standing and applauding) behind him, likely looking more like an adoring protégée than any sort of puppet-master. But if he stumbles at all, or looks tired, or says things that supposedly centrist Democrats like him don’t believe, the knees of many elephants will jerk and out will come the mockery of the old man who is a reassuring front for the Marxists actually running the country.
Such confusion if it continues will be of great service to Biden, much like the current Republican tendency to focus on irrelevant culture-war themes while a mostly united Democratic Party enacts legislative initiatives of a magnitude we haven’t seen since Ronald Reagan’s first year in office. For all their political gifts, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — who, lest we forget, both had a much more firmly Democratic Senate and House the first two years of their presidencies — couldn’t come close to the mastery of Congress Biden has exhibited up until now. As Republicans watch Biden’s speech, they should soberly realize that before long it may not matter that much if they bust up the Democratic trifecta in 2022. The damage to GOP policies and priorities wrought by “Uncle Joe” and his “senile socialist regime” could be too large to reverse by then. While Republicans fret about Trump and rage about “cancel culture,” Biden is eating their lunch.