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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Let the Rudy-Bashing Begin

At the risk of reading too much into a single newspaper column, I recommend Mike Gerson’s Washington Post entry today as an example of what Rudy Giuliani’s going to be facing during the remainder of the presidential nomination contest. Entitled “R. Milhous Giuliani,” the column’s comparison of Rudy to Tricky Dick is just part of Gerson’s indictment. He also describes Giuliani as a guy whose policy positions–pro-choice, pro-death penalty, pro-torture (he could have added pro-war)–are guaranteed to make him a target for the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, to which he is already hanging by his fingernails due to his second divorce and remarriage (his first marriage was annulled).
As you may know, Mike Gerson’s not just some random conservative columnist. Aside from his cult status as the speechwriter who managed to occasionally make George W. Bush sound eloquent, Gerson is a longstanding leadership figure in Washington’s tight-knit conservative evangelical community. (Alongside Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, he’s a parishioner at The Falls Church, one of two evangelical Episcopal congregations in suburban Washington that recently left the national denomination to protest its ordination of a gay bishop). He’s also got a reputation as a very genial man, so there’s no question his knee-capping of Rudy was entirely premeditated.
Gerson’s use of the Nixon analogy is quite interesting. A lot of Democrats are either too young or too old to remember that Nixon was loathed as heartily by some conservatives as he was by liberals, well before he destroyed his presidency and inflicted serious short-term damage on the GOP. Gerson mentions Nixon’s imposition of wage and price controls, and his nomination of Harry Blackmun–author of Roe v. Wade–to the Supreme Court as examples of his heresies. But conservative unhappiness with Nixon extended into foreign policy, where he and Henry Kissinger (whose retention by Gerald Ford was a significant issue in Reagan’s 1976 nomination challenge) were blamed for losing the Vietnam War and for allegedly excessive coziness towards the Soviet Union.
In Gerson’s eyes, the root of the Nixon problem was the man’s “secular” nature; his conservativism, such as it was, was not rooted in moral or religious views but in cynical opportunism and an adversarial character. He seduced “real” conservatives into supporting him mainly by attacking their enemies relentlessly. That is one theory (notably promulgated by Tom Edsall in a New Republic article in May) about Giuliani’s appeal to conservatives today. Gerson is clearly warning conservatives that Rudy, like Nixon, is “a talented man without an ideological compass, mainly concerned with the accumulation of power.”
Interestingly, despite his focus on Giuliani’s “secularism” and questionable character, Gerson doesn’t get into Rudy’s marital history. But he probably doesn’t need to: the celebrity media and the late-night comics will soon take care of that, feasting on all the sordid-sounding details once the possibility of a Giuliani presidency becomes more proximate.
I strongly suspect that Gerson’s assault on Giuliani is the opening shot in what will soon develop into a highly concerted Cultural Right effort to take Rudy down. There’s been a lot of talk in the last couple of years about the declining power of the Cultural Right. And without question, if social conservatives can’t veto someone with Rudy’s background as a presidential nominee, then they ain’t what they used to be. But I wouldn’t bet the farm on their failure in blocking Giuliani. In fact, I wouldn’t be a dime on it.

2 comments on “Let the Rudy-Bashing Begin

  1. Matt Zeitlin on

    This all seems true, but I’ve been hearing such predictions that the cultural conservative base will take down Rudy for months now…and it still hasn’t happened. I find it hard to believe that Gerson is really the opening salvo in their war against Rudy, they’ve known his positions, how pro life he is, his cultural “libertine-ness” etc for a while, and the take down hasn’t happened. I also think that Gerson and Ed conflate too closely how Rudy has strayed from Catholic teaching and how he has strayed from the cultural conservative base. His support for preemptive war and torture may rankle the Catholic hierarchy, but extreme hawkishness and “enhanced interrogation techniques” are the bread and butter of the base – this is where Rudy will try to win back the support, by letting everyone know he’s the superhawk. Sure, Cardinal Mahoney might not endorse him or vote for him in the GOP primary, but plenty more will.

  2. D.E. on

    The threat Giuliani poses to the religious right is a lot simpler. He is pro-choice. They have crowed for years that not only will they not “accept” a pro-choice presidential candidate, but even the VICE-presidential nominee must be pro-life. They have scared Reagan, Bush 41, and Romney into flip-flopping on the issue.
    If Giuliani gets elected, all of that goes out the window. Suddenly, the road to winning as a Republican will be to run as a pro-choicer. It will be the end of the political effectiveness of the pro-life movement.
    So, Giuliani represents an existential threat to these people. They will fight him– the question is how he will respond.


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