Rudy Giuliani's Compatibility With the Republican Christian Base

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Kevin Drum
what seems to be the prevailing sentiment regarding Rudy Giuliani:
“I don’t think Giuliani has the faintest chance of winning a
presidential contest in 2008, which is the reason I insisted
a few days ago that the Republican field was so poor this cycle.”
I think the opposite is true – Giuliani is by far the most
formidable, and most dangerous, Republican candidate, and the
notion that he cannot win the Republican nomination is grounded
in several myths.

There is
a widespread assumption that within the Republican “base” –
specifically among the party’s religious “conservatives” –
there are two distinct categories of issues: (a) foreign policy
issues (relating to terrorism, Iraq, etc.) and (b) issues of
religion and morality (gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research,
etc.). Conventional wisdom holds that Giuliani’s views on the
former are acceptable, even exciting, for the base, but his
views on the latter are anathema to them, even fatal to his
chances for attracting their support.

But for
the bulk of religious conservatives, foreign policy issues are
not distinct from religious
and moral issues. Our Middle East foreign policy is a critical,
really the predominant, item on their moral and religious agenda.
Among the Christian right, aggressive, war-seeking policies
in the Middle East – specifically against Muslim religiosity
and Israel’s enemies – are embraced on moral and theological
grounds far more than on geopolitical grounds.

Dobson was a leading advocate of the invasion of Iraq, telling
Larry King as early as September, 2002:

What do you make of going into Iraq? Does any part of that
question your Christian values about going to war?

No, not at all. It doesn’t. No, I – you know Saddam Hussein
is a tyrant, and he is out of the mold of Hitler and Stalin
and others. And you can’t negotiate with a tyrant. One who
is blood thirsty, one who’s willing to kill innocent people.
You can’t do that. And he’ll take your shorts if you try.
And I think there’s only one thing to do, and that’s go in
there and confront him. I just can’t imagine Adolf Hitler
negotiating in good faith or Stalin or Pol Pot or any of the
other tyrants.

For Dobson,
the impact of 9/11 on America was primarily spiritual: u201Cwe had
this resurgence of patriotism and this renewed religious faith,
belief in God,u201D and it was that u201Crenewed religious faithu201D which
drove him to urge that the U.S. wage war on the Evil tyrant.
In the same interview, Dobson said: u201CI feel very strongly about
Israel. You know it is surrounded by its enemies. And it exists
primarily because God has willed it to exist, I think, according
to scripture.u201D

9/11, various incidents (Ann Coulter’s demand to convert Muslim
countries to Christianity, Gen. Boykin’s casting of the War
on Terror in terms of a religious war, Franklin Graham’s administration-supported
conversion efforts, the controversy sparked by Pope Benedict’s
anti-Muslim commentary, even the President’s view of his policies
as a “crusade”) have left no doubt that, in key isolated Bush-supporting
circles, the u201CWar on Terroru201D — and specifically more wars on
more Islamic states such as Iran — is supported because such
wars are seen as religious wars to be waged in defense of Christianity.
Some of the most aggressive advocates of war against not only
Iraq but also Iran prominently include leading Christian evangelicals,
who have stressed the centrality of these hawkish foreign policy
views to their moral and religious agenda.

As The
New York Times reported
late last year, Rev. John Hagee “called the conflict [between
Hezbollah and Israel] ‘a battle between good and evil’ and said
support for Israel was ‘God’s foreign policy.’” Gary Bauer said
of Iran’s President Ahmadinejad: “I am not sure there is a foreign
leader who has made a bigger
splash in American culture since Khrushchev, certainly among
committed Christians,’ he said.”

In a March,
2002 speech, Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe blamed
the 9/11 attacks on America’s insufficiently supportive “spiritual”
posture towards Israel: u201COne of the reasons I believe the spiritual
door was opened for an attack against the United States was that
the policy of our government has been to ask the Israelis, and
demand it with pressure, not to retaliate against the terrorist
strikes that have been launched against them.”

talent for expressing prosecutor-like righteous anger towards
“bad people” – as well as his well-honed ability to communicate
base-pleasing rhetoric towards Islamic extremists – is underappreciated.
I don’t think any candidate will be able to compete with his ability
to convey a genuine hard-line against Middle Eastern Muslims (see
for one representative maneuver), and that
is the issue that – admittedly with some exceptions
– dominates the Christian conservative agenda more than gay
marriage and abortion (concerns which he can and will minimize
by promising to appoint more Antonin Scalias and Sam Alitos to
the Supreme Court, something he emphasized last night in a highly
amicable interview
with Sean Hannity).

The second
issue typically used to argue that Giuliani cannot attract the
necessary support from the party’s Christian conservative faction
is the wreck of a personal life he has suffered – the two
broken marriages, the publicly documented adultery, his cohabitation
with a gay couple, etc. But there are few things that are clearer
than the fact that Christian conservatives care far less about
a person’s actual conduct and behavior (and specifically whether
it comports to claimed Christian morality standards) than they
do about the person’s moral and political rhetoric, and even
more so, a person’s ability to secure political power.

Two of
the most admired political figures among Christian conservatives
– Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich – have the most
shameful, tawdry, and degenerate personal lives (using the claimed
standards of that political faction). Yet the gross disparity
between their personal conduct and the religious and moral values
they espouse has not injured their standing in the slightest
among the “values voters.” Here,
to take but one of countless examples, is how Kate O’Beirne
speaks of Rush Limbaugh:

angry, frustrated critics discount how hard it is to make
an outrageous charge against him stick. But, we listeners
have spent years with him, we know him, and trust him. Rush
is one of those rare acquaintances who can be defended against
an assault challenging his character without ever knowing
the “facts.” We trust his
good judgment, his unerring decency, and his fierce
loyalty to the country he loves and to the courageous young
Americans who defend her.

Rush Limbaugh
has been married and “engaged” more times than one can count,
has had a series of tawdry unmarried affairs and break-ups,
developed a pleasure-providing and illegal drug habit, and has
been caught with fistfuls of unprescribed Viagra while returning
from a weekend jaunt to the Dominican Republic. But the pious
and moral O’Beirne, speaking on behalf of Christian conservatives,
says that they “trust his good judgment” and his “unerring decency.”

The measuring
stick for someone’s “morality” among the bulk of Christian conservatives
– and certainly for their political leaders – is the
rhetoric someone spews, not whether their actions or personal
conduct comport with the moral sermons. Supporting Giuliani
would hardly be the first time Christian conservatives chose
as their standard-bearer someone whose actual personal behavior
deviates as fundamentally as can be from the moral standards
which Christian conservatives claim to embrace. If anything,
that discrepancy between their leaders’ sermons and their leaders’
behavior seems par for the course (the incident most likely
to harm Giuliani in any meaningful way is when he dressed
in drag
, as highly alienating an act as possible for a political
movement that venerates, above all else, those who play
pure masculinity
and substance-less
poses of physical courage

Rudy Giuliani
is, I think, by the far the smartest and most politically talented
candidate in the Republican field, a fact to which most residents
of New York during his mayoralty – including those who dislike
him – would likely attest. In an overwhelmingly Democratic
city, he won two elections, including a landslide for his second
term. And he does have in his past many incidents which will
uniquely appeal to Christian conservatives, such as the war
he waged
periodically on works of art and other cultural
expressions which offended his religious sensibilities.

As this
excellent and comprehensive article
documents, Giuliani is an “authoritarian narcissist” – plagued
by an unrestrained prosecutor’s mentality – who loves coercive
government power (especially when vested in his hands) and hates
dissent above all else. He would make George Bush look like an
ardent lover of constitutional liberties. He is probably the absolute
worst and most dangerous successor to George Bush under the circumstances,
but his political talents and prospects for winning are being
severely underestimated.

To clarify
a couple of points arising out of the discussion in Comments:
there are, of course, some Christian
Republican voters who will not vote for Giuliani exclusively because
of his position on social issues. But the influence of those types
of voters – single-minded social issues voters – is
often overstated. There is a reason he is leading in most Republican
public opinion polls.

A significant
part of the Republican “base” cares more, perhaps far more,
about hawkish Middle East policies than about gay marriage and
abortion. They are still looking for their Churchillian hero,
and Giuliani’s crime-busting, 9/11-hero-posturing, prosecutorial
toughness (staring down mafia leaders, terrorists and Wall St.
criminals) makes him the most credible authoritarian Leader
figure in the field. There is often a view of the “evangelical
Republican” voter that is more monolithic than is warranted;
they crave “strong” authoritarian leaders as much as they crave
anything else.

More significantly,
who is the candidate whom the hard-core, single-issue Religious
Right voters are going to support? They dislike McCain intensely,
and Romney’s social conservative credentials are now very much
in doubt. The appeal of George Bush as a candidate was that
he had both establishment/front-runner credibility and evangelical
appeal. That role was supposed to be filled by George Allen,
but with his disappearance, there is no such candidate. For
the hard-core religious voter, Sam Brownback or Mike Huckabee
will be more appealing than Rudy Giuliani, but it is very hard
to envision either of them winning, which illustrates the main
point: Giuliani’s stance on social issues will lose him some
votes, but it is far, far from certain that it will preclude
his winning the nomination.

Bush-lover Hugh Hewitt – who resides at the intersection
of all of the most extremist factions comprising the GOP “base”
– has this to

Giuliani and Governor Romney are eager to appear on media preferred
by the center-right. Senator McCain sticks primarily to Beltway
elite shows . . . Mayor Giuliani
had a great appearance on Hannity & Colmes last night
. . .The Governor and the Mayor seems disposed to engage the
grassroots that way.
John Hinderaker – as GOP base-like as it gets – featured
a You Tube video of Giuliani’s appearance with Hannity and said:
“It was a good reminder of how able a politician and leader Giuliani
is, and also of the areas where his record diverges from the party’s
base. Giuliani approaches the social issues like abortion in what
I think is the most effective way; he doesn’t back off from his
moderate-to-liberal policy views, but says that as President,
he would appoint strict constructionist judges.”

that the bulk of Hannity’s questions were about Giuliani’s positions
on social issues, these favorable reactions from highly representative
GOP dead-ender types is, I think, significant and a sign that
fewer people in the GOP base will write Giuliani off than is typically

7, 2007

Greenwald [send him mail]
is the author of How
Would a Patriot Act?
See his blog Unclaimed
, where this first appeared.

Greenwald Archives

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