Thursday, May 17, 2007

The GOP's future belongs to Rudy

Excerpted here is the New Republic's take on Giuliani's surprising (to some) success so far in the nominating process, given his (again, to some) moderate views on some social issues (again, they are not moderate or liberal, they are intellectual, nuanced and well considered, not simpleminded boilerplate). This is an decidedly liberal article in a liberal publication - yet it reminds me in stark fashion of what the erudite elites used to write about Reagan - while trying to tear him down, they could not contain their admiration, however unintentional. This is clear in these excerpts. I concur that Rudy could be a transformational figure, and not just because he may be the only candidate with a great chance of winning...T

William "Rusty" DePass named his dogs Goldwater, Reagan, and Bush. He is, needless to say, a conservative man, one who lives in a conservative state where the psychological scars of the Civil War still run deep. Six bronze stars on the west wall of the Capitol building here in Columbia mark the trajectory of Sherman's 1865 cannon fire from across the Congaree River. A state senator points me to the deep gouges on the building's banisters--gashes left, he says, by the sabers of Union officers charging the stairs on horseback. The Confederate flag still flies proudly in front of the statehouse. This is not, in short, hospitable political terrain for a drag-dressing, gay-friendly, abortion-loving, serially married, abrasive presidential candidate from New York.

Indeed, it is thanks to voters like DePass and states like South Carolina that Rudy Giuliani is widely thought to be doomed. "You need to suspend all your analytical faculties to believe the GOP will nominate for president a Republican (who holds moderate social positions)," says Stu Rothenberg, author of The Rothenberg Political Report. "It just isn't going to happen, at least not in my lifetime." Political analyst Charlie Cook said six months ago that he would "win the Tour de France before Rudy Giuliani wins the Republican nomination." More recently, he told me he was "nervously" sticking to that prediction. "If Giuliani wins," he said, "it means that everything that I have ever learned about Republican presidential nomination politics is wrong."

Many (liberal) observers believe Giuliani's early success is the result of his calculated move rightward--a savvy effort to trick conservative voters into believing he is really one of them. But there is another possibility, one that assumes a bit more intelligence on the part of conservative voters like DePass: What if we are witnessing not Rudy moving toward the rest of the Republican Party, but rather the Republican Party moving toward Rudy?

If Giuliani's liberal inclinations on certain sexual issues represent his party's future, so does his decided conservatism on nonsexual domestic matters. Take, for instance, the question of how much risk is desirable in our economic system and what, if anything, government should do to encourage or discourage it. Ever since Reagan, Republicans have seen themselves as the party that embraces risk as a worthy feature of American life; and Giuliani, with his criticism of the social safety net, is very much an heir to this tradition. A Weekly Standard article recently quoted Giuliani as saying that Democrats want "a no-risk society." Explaining his opposition to health care mandates, he said, "We've got to let people make choices. We've got to let them take the risk--do they want to be covered? Do they want health insurance? Because ultimately, if they don't, well, then, they may not be taken care of. I suppose that's difficult."

Another element of the Reagan tradition to which Giuliani can lay claim--and that bolsters his chance of winning the nomination--is his appeal to white, working-class voters: the Reagan Democrats who became the angry white men of the 1990s. Their switch to the GOP fractured the class basis of the New Deal coalition, and they have been crucial to every Republican presidential victory since 1968. These are Giuliani's people. He is pro-cop, anti-Sharpton, the mayor whose meritocratic streak led him to end the open admissions policy at the City University of New York. He stood in a flat-bed truck in front of City Hall in 1992 and told 10,000 beer-drinking cops that a proposed civilian review board was "bullshit" designed "to protect David Dinkins's political ass." He famously lectured a mother whose son had been killed in a hail of police bullets, "Maybe you should ask yourself some questions about the way he was brought up and the things that happened to him"...Giuliani was the tough guy who restored order to a city verging on chaos by breaking the back of the liberal interest groups that had once dominated local politics; and many white, lower- and middle-income voters in the outer boroughs loved him for it. They, more than any other factor, are the reason he was twice elected mayor of one of the country's most Democratic cities. And their hero now uses the same tough rhetoric that he once used to talk about criminals to talk about terrorists.

"I listen a little to the Democrats, and, if one of them gets elected, we are going on defense," he recently told an audience in New Hampshire. "We will wave the white flag on Iraq. We will cut back on the Patriot Act, electronic surveillance, interrogation, and we will be back to our preSeptember 11 attitude of defense."

Giuliani is more than just lucky, however. He is also smart. The former New York mayor has chosen the right moment to take his idiosyncratic brand of conservatism to the national stage. Hawkish on defense, bullish on unrestrained capitalism, socially tolerant on some questions, acidly intolerant on others, despised by his foes, beloved by his allies, eminently comfortable with combative politics, he is plausibly positioned to capitalize on--and perhaps drive--the reconfiguration of the Republican Party. This would have seemed improbable a decade ago, given the substantial differences that separated him from his party's base. But, today, he seems less a misfit in the GOP than a candidate with the potential--if he doesn't short-circuit--to become a transformational figure at a crucial moment in the party's history: someone, like Goldwater, Reagan, or Bush, who could redefine how Republicans win elections and what the label "conservative" means. Perhaps Rusty DePass will name his next dog Giuliani.
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