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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Rudy Recalibrates

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.

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