Giuliani, the GOP paradox

He led N.Y. after 9/11, but positions on social issues put him at odds with conservatives

May 01, 2006|By JANET HOOK

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- When Rudolph W. Giuliani stepped on stage in a sports arena here, he was greeted with a brassy rendition of "New York, New York," a cloud of confetti and an ovation.

The response at the recent business seminar was a tribute to the widespread appeal of the former mayor, who cleaned up New York and stood strong in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. But it also looked like a dress rehearsal for a presidential campaign.

With polls showing Giuliani as an early front-runner among the GOP's potential presidential candidates in 2008, this appearance and others around the country raise a question: Is the Republican Party ready for a nominee who takes liberal positions on abortion, gun control and gay rights, has had two messy divorces, once lived with a gay couple and endorsed liberal icon Mario M. Cuomo to be governor of New York?

Many Republicans see Giuliani as a political paradox. Though he is one of the party's most popular leaders, they cannot imagine him winning the nomination for a party in which evangelical conservatives have a big voice in presidential politics.

David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union, said, "Giuliani is a smart enough guy to know that the first day of his campaign would be his best day. He is superficially popular, but when ... his positions on a variety of issues not consistent with the Republican Party base's [become better known], he would not stand up well."

Giuliani has said he will not make a decision about seeking the presidency until after November's midterm elections. But his calendar is loaded with political appearances that would serve him well if he runs. Yesterday, he was to attend a New York fundraiser for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Today, he goes to Iowa to appear with local GOP candidates and raise money for the state party. Tomorrow, he headlines a fundraiser in Washington for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Such stops help Giuliani bank good will from other Republicans. But unless he backs away from his support for gay rights, gun control and abortion rights, a Giuliani campaign would hinge on a crucial question: In the post-Sept. 11 political world, are such issues less important than they have been in GOP presidential politics?

"If the country is focused on international terrorism, those issues will recede," said Rep. Peter T. King, a New York Republican. If he runs, Giuliani's tenure as mayor from 1994 to 2002 -- not just the part that came after Sept. 11, 2001 -- would get new attention.

"Here's a guy who governed the largest city in America for eight years, brought down crime, brought welfare rolls down dramatically and reduced taxes," said Anthony V. Carbonetti, a Giuliani business partner and political adviser. "Are there better conservative principles than that?"

Giuliani's stormy private life might also come under renewed scrutiny. His divorce from his second wife, Donna Hanover, was especially bitter. And as their marriage fell apart, Giuliani moved out of the mayor's mansion and stayed for a time with a gay couple in their apartment.

But for many voters, such matters are probably eclipsed by the Giuliani they saw on Sept. 11. He went to the World Trade Center before it collapsed. He led New York's recovery effort and was named Time magazine's "Man of the Year" in 2001.

As Giuliani weighs whether that celebrity can be parlayed into a viable presidential bid, people close to him say he is genuinely undecided. But in the meantime, "he wants to be prepared if he decides to go forward," said a confidant who requested anonymity.

As he tests the waters, Giuliani has been trying to build bridges to party conservatives.

He recently campaigned for Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, and soon will headline a fundraiser for Ralph Reed, former head of the Christian Coalition, who is running for lieutenant governor of Georgia. In January, Giuliani gave a speech to thousands of evangelicals at a meeting in Florida of the Global Pastors Network.

Still, there may be a limit to Giuliani's ability to win over the Christian right. Evangelical leader Jerry Falwell said in a recent interview on CNN that he could not support a Giuliani presidential candidacy. "We have probably irreconcilable differences on life and family," Falwell said.

Giuliani's supporters acknowledge the obstacles he would face as a presidential contender but say he could overcome them.

"There is no way on God's green earth that many people with his [record] could get this party's nomination," said former Rep. Susan Molinari, a New York Republican. "But I do think Rudy Giuliani can. He's a historic figure who is able to shake that conventional wisdom and break that mold."

Janet Hook writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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