Giuliani says GOP should tolerate his dissenting views

He is viable candidate despite views on abortion, gays, guns, he says

May 12, 2007|By New York Times News Service.

HOUSTON -- Rudolph W. Giuliani challenged Republican Party orthodoxy yesterday, saying that his support for abortion rights, gun control and gay rights should not disqualify him from winning the party's presidential nomination.

Republicans need to be tolerant of dissenting views on those issues if they want to hold the White House, he said.

In a forceful summation of the substantive and political case for his candidacy, delivered to a conservative audience at Houston Baptist University, Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, acknowledged that his views on social issues are out of line with those of many Republican primary voters.

But he argued that there are greater matters at stake in the election, starting with which party would better protect the nation from terrorism.

Giuliani suggested that his record in New York, which includes leading the city after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and overseeing a decline in violent crime during his eight years in office, makes him the most electable of the Republican candidates, regardless of his stands on social issues like abortion.

"If we don't find a way of uniting around broad principles that will appeal to a large segment of this country, if we can't figure that out, we are going to lose this election," he said.

Giuliani's speech reflected a decision - the campaigns of other Republican candidates suggested that gamble might be a better word - to address head-on a fundamental obstacle to his winning the nomination: his long history as a moderate Northeast Republican in a party increasingly dominated by Southern and Midwestern conservatives.

As a result, the speech looms as a potentially important moment in the party's efforts to decide how to compete against the Democrats in 2008 and what it should stand for in a post-Bush era.

"The mere fact that I am standing here running for president of the United States with the views that I have, that are different in some respects on some of these issues, shows that we much more adequately represent the length and breadth and the opinions of America than the other party does," Giuliani said.

Since the late 1970s, national Republican candidates have increasingly taken conservative positions on social issues. Giuliani is bucking what many members of his party consider to be a powerful trend and confronting what is often assumed to be a wall of opposition among Christian conservatives, among other constituencies that play influential roles in the nomination.

Both of his leading opponents, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, oppose abortion rights. McCain regularly refers to his lifelong opposition to abortion rights. Romney also regularly talks about his opposition, though he is perhaps more politically constrained because he supported abortion rights through much of his political career in Massachusetts.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group, dismissed Giuliani's speech in an e-mail he sent to supporters yesterday.

"When people hear Rudy Giuliani speak about taxpayer-funded abortions, gay `rights' and gun control, they don't hear a choice, they hear an echo of Hillary Clinton," Perkins wrote.

A week ago, Giuliani gave a convoluted answer to questions at a debate about his views on abortion rights, provoking criticism by conservative groups.

Yesterday, he offered a lengthy explanation of his views on abortion, saying that he opposes it but that government should not prohibit it. He acknowledged that the views differed from those of many in the audience.

"Where people of good faith, people who are equally decent, equally moral and equally religious, when they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very, very personal, I believe you have to respect their viewpoint," he said. "You give them a level of choice here."

Giuliani said his differences with his audience on gun control and gay rights were probably less sharp.

He defended his support for tough gun control measures while he was mayor of New York but said that that was central to his strategy for reducing crime in the city.

He described himself as an advocate of a view of the Second Amendment that holds that it permits citizens to bear arms.

Giuliani said that he supports allowing gays and lesbians to enter into domestic partnerships but opposes allowing them to marry.

Giuliani drew a standing ovation from his audience, and many members, in interviews after the remarks, praised him for what they described as his candor in presenting his position on difficult issues. But leaders of some evangelical and conservative groups quickly denounced Giuliani and predicted his downfall.

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