I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rudy Giuliani's compatibility with the Republican Christian base

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

Kevin Drum voices 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.

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

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

DOBSON: 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: “we had this resurgence of patriotism and this renewed religious faith, belief in God,” and it was that “renewed religious faith” which drove him to urge that the U.S. wage war on the Evil tyrant. In the same interview, Dobson said: “I 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.”

Since 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 “War on Terror” – 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, Oklahama Sen. James Inhofe blamed the 9/11 attacks on America's insufficiently supportive "spiritual" posture towards Israel: “One 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."

Giuliani's 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 -- are 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 here 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:

Rush's 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 act 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.

UPDATE: 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 type 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.

UPDATE II: Evangelical Bush-lover Hugh Hewitt -- who resides at the intersection of all of the most extremist factions comprising the GOP "base" -- has this to say today:

Mayor 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.

Powerline's 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."

Given 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 assumed.

UPDATE III: Steve M. of No More Mister Nice Blog examines the transparent rehabilitative propaganda campaign surrounding Giluiani's personal life which was unleashed today via a coordinated effort between the Giuliani campaign and The New York Post (which, incidentally, also included a gushing column from supreme Bush-lover John Podhoretz, in which he insists that conservatives love Giuliani and that he should be considered the front-runner to win the nomination).

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