The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger hails Rudy Giuliani’s address to last weekend’s Values Voter Summit as an example of “adult politics” in this article. Giuliani told social conservatives that he’s not going to pretend he’s something he’s not, but that he will offer them respect and a fair shake for their ideas.
That’s got to sound pretty good. Rudy’s clearly not one of them, but values voters have been regularly dismissed and ridiculed, as if their concerns mean nothing. Giuliani is saying that, although he doesn’t share their concerns, he can work with them and help them advance their agenda. What more could they want?
Henninger, however, basically accuses the values voters of being far less than mature. He notes, “A straw poll taken after the candidates' speeches put Mr. Giuliani next to dead last, before John McCain but well behind the attendees' top choice, former Baptist minister and future talk-show star Mike Huckabee.” (Note to Henninger: dissing these people’s opinions is not going to endear them to your segment of the GOP.)
Political science professor Paul Kengor (Grove City College) has a completely different view than Henninger. And it basically points out the significant split between the GOP’s social conservatives and other GOP players (including fiscal conservatives and business).
Kengor argues for a litmus test on abortion and right-to-life issues for the GOP’s nominee. “The president is the leader of his party. With a President Giuliani, neither of the two party leaderships would be pro-life. That would be devastating to the cause of life,” writes Kengor.
Henninger, representing the more economically motivated arm of the party, fails to comprehend exactly how important life issues are to many values voters. They are willing to die on this hill, as the saying goes. Kengor puts it rather succinctly. He writes that “the principled pro-life evangelicals and Catholics threatening to stay home or bolt to a third party if Rudy wins the nomination” fully understand that this would result in “electing Hillary Clinton.”
But Kengor explains that hard line values voters find this scenario more acceptable than “a pro-choice Republican president.” The threat to let Hillary win, he says, is an attempt “to stop a train wreck before it happens.” Kengor means that this threat is no bluff; it’s a promise.
If values voters can’t strong-arm the rest of the GOP into nominating a clearly pro-life candidate, enough of them will not vote GOP to throw the election to the Democrats. They believe that this will serve a higher good than having a GOP president that could help their cause but that isn’t pro-life.
Social conservatives know they have no home in the Democratic Party, regardless of the rhetoric coming from some corners of the party. Now they feel that they are on the verge of being marginalized in the GOP as well, despite all the sacrifices they have made for the party. The alliance between social conservatives and the other factions of the GOP has been rather uneasy from the start. This is another skirmish in the ongoing battle. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Democrats find themselves in a difficult position. While they can smile with schadenfreude at the GOP’s internal struggles, they can only hope that the party tears itself asunder if Giuliani wins the nomination. But then they must live with the fear that Giuliani would then prove to be a formidable opponent that could draw significant numbers of independents and even registered party members after him — maybe even enough to make up for the loss of social conservative hardliners.
If that were to happen, it would prove bad for both Democrats and social conservatives. Democrats because they would lose the White House yet again. Social conservatives because it would prove that the GOP doesn’t really need them, so they would be further marginalized. Still, there’s no way of knowing at this point what course events will run.
Politics can be an interesting game to watch. Except that the spectator must live with the horror that the game’s outcome will likely have a significant impact on her/his own life and the lives of many others. The horror wouldn’t be so bad if government played a much smaller role in our lives.