Rudy Giuliani was, for him, uncharacteristically coy about his presidential intentions until just the past few weeks. During last fall’s election campaign he stuck to the Nixon playbook, raising money for and campaigning on behalf of Republican candidates all over the country. This had the obvious merits of leaving many elected officials in his debt, and of introducing himself to GOP voters without asking them to vote for him.
Lo and behold, the strategy has been working. Without actively campaigning, Rudy has risen to the top of the polls of GOP candidates. What is most interesting is that he has done this despite the fact that he has not yet significantly trimmed his well known and fairly liberal views on social issues, especially abortion and gay marriage (though on the latter he has endorsed only civil unions). Since Reagan and the rise of the social right, it has been considered an iron law of politics that GOP primary voters are disproportionately conservative, and anyone who isn’t staunchly pro-life can’t get through a primary.
So what has happened?
My guess is Hillary. Senator Clinton has what looks like a lock on the Democratic nomination. Two years out, it has finally hit home that the GOP has a weak bench, and that the former front-runner John McCain, at seventy, may not have the fire in the belly to best her.
Giuliani’s strength is nothing if not sheer force of will. His virtues include making a city previously thought ungovernable orderly and livable. And then he kept that city functioning and staunch after the attacks of 9/11. In the years since, he has made it his business to learn what a leader needs to know about national security, Islamofascism, terrorism, and the war in Iraq. GOP voters may have noticed that he doesn’t trim there, either. Those are real and formidable accomplishments for a candidate running in a time of war.
After the election there was a spate of think pieces on the subject, “Is Conservatism Finished?” I’d agree with Wilfred McClay’s piece in Commentary, which answered “no.” But it may be that we are entering a moment less dominated by purist ideology. The national-security stakes are so high for 2008, and anti-war sentiment so broad, that even the most socially conservative voters may be willing to vote early and often for the lesser of evils.