Politics, philosophy, religion, and other things

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Moving left

Rudy Giuliani's candidacy has always been a bit puzzling to me. On the one hand, he is respected in the conservative community for three things 1) Being tough on crime 2) His earned passion for fighting terrorism because of his personal experience as a leader in New York 3) He stuck it to the liberals in their home territory. But then, he is not a social conservative. He has a fairly consistent record of supporting abortion rights, homosexual rights, and gun control. And I had thought that varying too far from the party platform on any of these issues was enough to prevent you from being the national representative of the Republican party.

Well, it seemed like many people were busy telling this to Giuliani as he began his campaign, so he started to waffle a little--talking about "strict constructionists" on the court and giving the signals to the gatekeepers of social conservatives that he was willing to at least act like a social conservative.

Evidently it was always going to be a matter of too little, too late. Yesterday he gave a speech to a crowd of conservatives at Houston Baptist University where he publicly acknowledged his differences on these issues--saying that while he thought abortion was "morally wrong," he still supported a woman's right to choose.

Many have assumed that this will spell the end of any real chance that Giuliani has of winning the primary. I'm not so sure that's the case.

First, Giuliani's main competition have problems of their own in presenting their conservative credentials and so are not well placed to criticize him on these issues. McCain, while fairly conservative, has been too popular with the press as a "maverick," (which is understood by many conservatives as just meaning "compromiser") to be trusted by conservatives. And Romney, while he's saying all the right things now, as recently as 2002 was bragging about his pro-choice credentials. So Republicans might feel like they have no better alternative than Rudy, and they at least trust him (and he's probably a good guy to have a beer with).

Second, liberals have been bemoaning the fact that for the last few decades conservatives have shifted the political spectrum rightward--so that what we today call a "moderate" would have just been a normal conservative thirty years ago. Well, there's been some pushback against this in the last few years, and spurred on by the deeply unpopular war that the Republican Party has willingly accepted as the barometer for their fortunes, the public has started to move slightly back toward the left.

One result of this shift is that it makes views that are unpopular in your own party seem more plausible, or at least disagreements over these issues just don't as important. For instance, I'm willing to support candidates that have come out in favor of capital punishment (looking at you Clinton), or who don't condemn the war on drugs, or support gun control. I think of all these issues as important issues, but politically speaking I don't envision any of them becoming major policy issues for the next presidential term. Why is this? Largely because the right "won" these debates, which continued to tilt the country more and more towards the right.

I think this leftward shift could benefit Giuliani. The Republicans are going to have to go back to playing defense for a while, even if they do win the presidency (unless they can also retake Congress). And even if the Republican candidate is elected, he is going to have to fight with the U.S. people over foreign policy in the Middle East. At this point, all the major candidates have come out as strong hawks, so it would strange for them to change tack if they are elected. And at this point as least, the war is a losing issue for the Republicans.

Update: BooMan makes some good points along the same lines here.

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